Summary: When a person mistreats you or performs evil against you, what is a positive way to respond? Why is it important that we respond this way?
Nineteenth century Russia was a nation in turmoil. But that was nothing new. The nation had actually been going through a period of unrest for a couple hundred years. But finally it seemed to be coming to a head. On the one hand, there was the Russian nobility who resisted any change. On the other, there were a growing number of radicals who wanted, well, radical change. And stuck in the middle was Alexander II, the Tzar of Russia.
Throughout the period of His reign, Alexander did bring about a number of reforms. But those reforms fell far short of what the radicals were looking for, so they decided they would assassinate the Tsar using terrorist means. We tend to think terrorism is a new thing, but it’s been around for a long, long time.
So in April of of 1879, the first attempt was made. A man named Alexander Soloviev tried to assassinate Alexander II, but failed. He was captured and was executed along with 16 other men suspected of terrorism.
In November of the same year, Andrei Zhelyabov and Sophia Perovskaya of the terrorist organization the People’s Will decided to give it a try. They decided to use nitroglycerine to blow up the Tsar’s train. But they made a mistake, and blew up the wrong train.
Another attempt to kill the Tsar involved blowing up a bridge in St. Petersburg as the Tsar was crossing it, but that too was unsuccessful.
Take 4. It’s now February of 1880. This time, the People’s Will attempts to kill the Tsar by blowing up his dining room while he was eating. So the terrorists got some dynamite and constructed a mine, put it in the basement under the dining room and set it to go off at 6:30 during dinner. But the Tsar was expecting a guest that night who was running late, so no one was in the dining room at the time.
So the terrorists decided to try again. March 1, 1881. Alexander was travelling in a closed carriage on his way to the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg and was guarded by a number of soldiers and police officers. All along the way he was watched by members of the People’s Will. As the carriage approached a street corner, a signal was given and two terrorists threw bombs at the Tsar’s carriage. Of course, they missed and the bombs landed among the soldiers. Alexander was fine, but… he insisted on getting out to check on the injured men. And while he was standing with them, another terrorist threw another bomb and this time made contact. Alexander was killed instantly.
Alexander II was succeeded by his son, Alexander III. It was under his rule that several of the terrorists were captured and were sentenced to be hanged. This was really a strange situation: he was in a position to execute the people who assassinated his father. For those of you who enjoyed Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride:
“My name is Alexander III. You killed my father. Prepared to die.”
Before the execution, though, Alexander III received a letter from Leo Tolstoy. You may recognize that name. Tolstoy was a Russian philosopher and author who wrote several classics, including War and Peace. In the letter, Tolstoy urged Alexander to have mercy on the men and forgive them for what they did. He didn’t try to justify what they had done, he simply pleaded for their lives.
He wrote to the Tsar, “… your every step in the direction of forgiveness is a step towards good.”
~ Leo Tolstoy
He urged him to:
“Return good for evil, resist not evil, forgive everyone.”
~ Leo Tolstoy
Alexander III chose to ignore Tolstoy’s advice and allowed the execution to proceed. And the Russian society continued to be in turmoil over the next three and a half decades as the Communist Regime came to power.
I don’t know how things would have been different if Alexander had pardoned the people who conspired to kill his father. It’s interesting to think about it, though. Because forgiveness has a lot of power, and turning the other cheek can turn a life around.
When someone mistreats you, how should you treat them? When someone does evil to you, how should you respond? Tolstoy had a lot to say about this, and so does the Bible. You don’t have to look very far in the teachings of Christ, or the teachings of Paul, or the wisdom of the Proverbs before you come across some passage which instructs you in how to treat people who don’t treat you well.
In fact, Chris read one of those passages earlier for us from the book of Romans 12. Check out these verses:
Romans 12:17 (NLT)
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honourable.