“GOD SEES THE TRUTH, BUT WAITS” (1872) (part three)
By Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) (1907 Maude translation)
(…continued) One night as he was walking about the prison, Aksyónof noticed some earth that came rolling out from under one of the shelves on which the prisoners slept. He stopped to see what it was. Suddenly Makar Semyónitch crept out from under the shelf, and looked up at Aksyónof with frightened face. Aksyónof tried to pass without looking at him, but Makár seized his hand and told him that he had dug a hole under the wall, getting rid of the earth by putting it into his high-boots, and emptying it out every day on the road when the prisoners were driven to their work.
“Just you keep quiet, old man, and you shall get out too,” Makar said. “If you blab they’ll flog the life out of me, but I will kill you first.”
Aksyónof trembled with anger as he looked at his enemy. He drew his hand away, saying, “I have no wish to escape, and you have no need to kill me. You killed me long ago. As to telling of you– I may do so or not, as God shall direct.”
The next day, when the convicts were led out to work, the convoy soldiers noticed that one or other of the prisoners emptied some earth out of his boots. The prison was searched, and the tunnel found. The Governor came and questioned all the prisoners to find out who had dug the hole. They all denied any knowledge of it. Those who knew, would not betray Makar, knowing he would be flogged almost to death. At last the Governor turned to Aksyónof, whom he knew to be a just man, and said, “You are a truthful old man; tell me, before God, who dug the hole?”
Makár stood as if he were quite unconcerned, looking at the Governor and not so much as glancing at Aksyónof. Aksyónof’s lips and hands trembled, and for a long time he could not utter a word. He thought, “Why should I protect him who ruined my life? Let him pay for what I have suffered. But if I tell, they will probably flog the life out of him and maybe I suspect him wrongly. And, after all, what good would it be to me?”
“Well, old man,” repeated the Governor, “tell us the truth: who has been digging under the wall?”
Aksyónof finally said “I cannot say, your honor. It is not God’s will that I should tell! Do what you like with me; I am in your hands.”
However much the Governor tried, Aksyónof would say no more, and so the matter had to be left.
That night, when Aksyónof was lying on his bed and just beginning to doze, some one came quietly and sat down on his bed. He peered through the darkness and recognized Makar.
“What more do you want of me?” asked Aksyónof. “Why have you come here?”
Makar was silent. So Aksyónof sat up and said, “What do you want? Go away, or I will call the guard!”
Makar bent close over Aksyónof, and whispered, “Iván Dmítritch Aksyónof, forgive me!”
“What for?” asked Aksyónof.
“It was I who killed the merchant and hid the knife among your things. I meant to kill you too, but I heard a noise outside; so I hid the knife in your bag and escaped out of the window.”
Aksyónof was silent, and did not know what to say. Makár Semyónitch slid off the bed-shelf and knelt upon the ground. “Aksyónof,” said he, “forgive me! For the love of God, forgive me! I will confess that it was I who killed the merchant, and you will be released and can go to your home.”
“It is easy for you to talk,” said Aksyónof, “but I have suffered for you these twenty-six years. Where could I go to now? My wife is dead, and my children have forgotten me. I have nowhere to go.”
Makar did not rise, but beat his head on the floor. “Forgive me!” he cried. “When they flogged me with the whip it was not so hard to bear as it is to see you now. Yet you had pity on me, and did not tell. For Christ’s sake forgive me, wretch that I am!” And he began to sob.
When Aksyónof heard him sobbing he, too, began to weep.
“God will forgive you!” said he. “Maybe I am a hundred times worse than you.” And at these words his heart grew light, and the longing for home left him. He no longer had any desire to leave the prison, but only hoped for his last hour to come.
In spite of what Aksyónof had said, Makar Semyónitch confessed his guilt. But when the order for his release came, Aksyónof was already dead.
Romans 12:17-21 — Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Revelation 2:9-10 — (Jesus said), “I know your afflictions and your poverty— yet you are rich!… Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution… Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
Hebrews 6:9b-11 — We are convinced of better things in your case— things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.
James 1:12 — Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.
–Jesus, Luke 23:34a