Book Review: The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy

(Three Stars)

“Human life is a combination of the animal life and the divine life. And the more this combination approaches to the divine life, the more life there is in it.”

Expected more from the author of War and Peace. Anyone who can organize and tell such a gripping, true-to-life tale ought to be able to frame an effective argument on any topic which he sincerely believes. Not so. Perhaps the circumstances of this book’s writing and publishing are partly to blame. Tolstoy wrote this in response to the criticism of his earlier work What I Believe. This book was so critical of the established Russian Orthodox Church that he could not publish it in Russia.

“Physical coercion is not acceptable to moral regeneration. The sinful dispositions of men can be subdued only by love. There is great security in being gentle, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy.” William Lloyd Garrison, 1830

That said, today’s reader should skip the first two chapters, or read them last, as they are surveys of Americans–specifically, abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Adin Ballou, and the Quakers–who agreed with his doctrines of pacifism.

“The man who believes in the Church doctrine of the compatibility of warfare and capital punishment with Christianity cannot believe in the brotherhood of all men.”

This book also illustrates the danger of basing one’s entire theology on one verse. Tolstoy has a lot to say to Christians, but it is lost in repetition of his main point. Reads like an extended pamphlet. (Being Tolstoy, the pamphlet exceeds 350 pages.)

“The significance of the Gospel is hidden from believers by the Church, and from unbelievers by science.”

Nonetheless, a provocative and thought-worthy work, said to have influenced Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. Should we be assured or disturbed that for hundreds of years the same arguments and same verses have been used defending or attacking the “real” message of Jesus?

“Blessedness consists in progress toward perfection: to stand still in any condition whatever means the cessation of this blessedness.”