24 pages 48 minutes read

Leo Tolstoy

God Sees the Truth, but Waits

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1872

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The story is first and foremost a parable about forgiveness. Indeed, Aksenov’s inability to forgive Makar forms the central conflict of the story—a conflict that is resolved when Aksenov realizes that only God can forgive.

The centrality of the theme of forgiveness emerges clearly in Aksenov’s interactions with Makar. When Aksenov begins to suspect that Makar was the person who committed the murder for which he was convicted, anger and resentment consume him. As he thinks of all the suffering Makar has caused him, the pious Aksenov longs for vengeance, “even if he himself would perish for it” (121).

When the authorities discover Makar’s attempt to escape the prison by digging a tunnel, Aksenov seriously considers reporting him. Questioned about the tunnel, Aksenov thinks: “Let [Makar] pay for what I’ve suffered” (122). Despite this, he does not report Makar. However, though Aksenov may pity Makar, he is resistant to forgiving him—even when Makar begs for his forgiveness and offers to confess his own guilt to the authorities. At last, however, Aksenov proclaims, “God will forgive you!” (123). With this realization that God alone can offer true forgiveness, Aksenov is unburdened of his anger and can finally find peace.