I ran across this great quote the other day reading Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You and think it is worth sharing and reflecting on:
Christ’s teaching is not generally understood in its true, simple, and direct sense even in these days, when the light of the Gospel has penetrated even to the darkest recesses of human consciousness ; when, in the words of Christ, that which was spoken in the ear is proclaimed from the housetops ; and when the Gospel is influencing every side of human life—domestic, economic, civic, legislative, and international. This lack of true understanding of Christ’s words at such a time would be inexplicable, if there were not causes to account for it.
One of these causes is the fact that believers and unbelievers alike are firmly persuaded that they have understood Christ’s teaching a long time, and that they understand it so fully, indubitably, and conclusively that it can have no other significance than the one they attribute to it. And the reason of this conviction is that the false interpretation and consequent misapprehension of the Gospel is an error of such long-standing. Even the strongest current of water cannot add a drop to a cup which is already full.
The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already ; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.
(Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You, 49)
The line that caught my attention is so great that it merits repeating.
Believers and unbelievers alike are firmly persuaded that they have understood Christ’s teaching a long time, and that they understand it so fully, indubitably, and conclusively that it can have no other significance than the one they attribute to it.
Is Tolstoy right? Have we determined that we so fully understand the full extent of Christ’s teaching that it has no other significance?
If he is correct, what do we do about it? What do we need to learn? Or, better, what do we need to unlearn?