Reading Leo Tolstoy’s classic, War and Peace is like feasting at a fifty course banquet. There is so much more in the novel than could ever be captured in the movie version. Apart from the innumerable characters, and the historical events it covers, War and Peace, is full of the author’s reflections upon the meaning of life and the search for purpose and fulfillment.
I was impressed by the character of the commander-in-chief of the Russian army, Kutuzov, who embodied, for Tolstoy, the people of Russia. His motto was Patience and Time. He was willing to let Napoleon and the invading forces under his command destroy themselves rather than waste the lives of his own soldiers. He resisted the desires of his commanders to seek glory by launching attacks on the retreating French army. He was content to let General Winter do his work. So often in life we are tempted to force issues rather than let them take their own course. We think we are doing God’s work for him rather than let him work out his purposes. Patience and Time are two virtues we find difficult to accept. We want results too soon.
Throughout the work (Tolstoy does not call it a novel) there are reflections on Destiny. In his Second Epilogue Tolstoy philosophizes on what causes such vast movements of men from west to east and then from east to west. He argues that it cannot be just because Napoleon was a genius and people obeyed him. Nor does he think that it was the result of the ideas of liberty, fraternity and equality spawned by the French revolution. Neither does he think that it was caused by new economic and trade issues. He discusses whether we have free will, or whether all these movements are determined, and we are dependent upon some predestination.
He even has some interesting things to say about God and evolution. Nothing that we argue about today is anything new. In the end he believes that we are all dependent on forces that are beyond us, just as the planet on which we live is dependent upon the place it occupies in the solar system. We are not aware of the rotation of the earth, and yet it is happening as we speak. Similarly we are not aware of our dependence upon the forces of history. We are called to act morally, using our free will, but we are also predestined by God, or fate, or circumstances, to fulfill our destiny. We are called to love God and one another in whatever way we can. In that way we discover the mystery and beauty of life.