Transpositions is a great online magazine publication that comes out of St. Andrews University in Scotland. I have had the privilege of visiting there several times, to take part in conferences and as a guest student at The Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts.
This article looks at the difference between an aesthetic of sentimentality when dealing with suffering in the world, and genuine engagement with the inexplicable things that happen in our lives.
From the article:
“(Jeremy Begbie) links this sentimentalist eschatology to the type of Christian theodicy which Ivan Karamazov rejects in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Ivan launches a notoriously compelling tirade against the belief that innocent suffering is justifiable as part of an overarching ‘harmony’, and Begbie believes that sentimental art can lure the Christian into precisely this kind of aesthetic theodicy, in which all is made right in a final ‘balancing act’.
“There is however, a profound beauty (in The Brother’s Karamazov) which is sometimes glimpsed amidst this ‘sentimentality with boys’ which gives us cause to hesitate before joining Begbie in trying to disentangle God’s beauty from the sentimental. Alyosha is, at times, susceptible to naivety, yet he does – as Begbie notes – accept Ivan’s critique of the aesthetics of ‘perfectly harmonised bliss’. Alyosha is not denying the power of suffering, he is seeking to use the gift of the Incarnation against this power in whatever way he can. There is undoubtedly risk involved in this approach, and Dostoevsky shows how quickly sentimentality can slide into delusion or harmful deception, yet there is also a strong sense in his work that beauty is recoverable from all dimensions of human experience.”