Mikel Bulgakov’s Russian masterpiece “Master and Margarita” follows the Devil, Woland, and his minions as they descend upon Moscow to terrorize, destroy, and uproot society. However, despite his unsettling violence, Woland ultimately serves as a force of good and truth for the Russian people. Bulgakov uses Woland to uproot truths about the corrupt, oppressive reality of USSR’s government and society. Woland’s mischief provides multiple venues for Bulgakov to satirically highlight the USSR’s many violations of basic political, social, and economic human rights and fundamental freedoms. By interacting with the devil, Russian writers whose literature deceive the public by falsely glorifying the government are provoked to finally speak the truth about their corrupt communist system. Griboyedov, a literary house built for puppet writers, burns down in flames as Woland unveils to the public the truth behind the government’s censorship of news and literature.
The role of the Devil in Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita” is motivated by Goethe’s Devil, Mephistopheles, in his novel “Faust”. Faust’s idolatry of rationalism and science as the ultimate source of fulfillment lead him on an empty intellectual journey that initially rules out faith or any reason to continue living. Goethe’s main character Faust, frustrated by the human limits of his knowledge, sells his soul to the devil in pursuit of perfection and fulfillment that Faust acknowledges cannot be obtained in this world. Mephistopheles takes Faust on a journey that illuminates that his pursuit for unworldly knowledge is actually a pursuit for faith and spirituality. Goethe portrays the devil as constantly tempting man, setting man in forward-motion as he quests for fulfillment. These worldly quests ultimately unveil the emptiness in hubris, self-indulgence, and sin that the devil so tempts us into believing as the ultimate sources of fulfillment. “Man must strive, and striving he must err” (Faust). However, Faust, like man, finds that fulfillment using worldly reasoning and rationalism, is impossible. Faust’s pact with the devil unveils how the devil can serve as a source of truth. As the Devil’s temptation leads man to find emptiness in one worldly thing after another, the devil ultimately leads man towards God as they face the undeniable conclusion that true fulfillment can only be found in something not of this world. Thus, Goethe’s devil, like Woland in “Master and Margarita”, operates as a “power which forever wills evil and forever works good” (Faust), constantly causing man to strive.
In the end, man still chooses. The Devil presents man with many options and it is still up to man to understand and choose that a relationship with God leads to ultimate fulfillment not of this world. But therein lies the beauty, man must still choose God. Revelation presents the end of time where God triumphs, heaven is brought down to earth, and man is undeniably faced with Christ. I am faced with the question of why Christ doesn’t provide undeniable signs or beam down to earth to provide inarguable proof of his existence and truth. How is God not most glorified by triumphing over evil, bringing heaven to earth, and allowing everyone to be in direct, tangible relationship with Him? Faust and Bulgakov introduce the entirely beautiful nature of how beauty and good can come from evil. Take, for example, a man who painfully strives for fulfillment and whose errors and sufferings through devilish temptations lead him to choose faith in Christ. How much more beautiful and glorifying to God is a story such as that than the story of someone who only believes in Christ because they witnessed the returned Christ perform wonders on earth. We often wish or pray that God provide an undeniable sign that He is real and in doing so we root our “faith” in the rationality of this world rather than the next. Such a prayer fails to understand the purpose of faith, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). God clearly states in the bible that we are called to bring Him glory and a life of faithful suffering for ultimate truth in Christ brings far greater glory than a life of de facto, rational belief in Christ. As I read Revelations 21:22 – 22:6, I cannot help but think that the person characteristic of the former story is far more worthy of the new heavens and new earth than the person characteristic of the latter story. Rather than seeing cruelty in Christ delaying his return and allowance of the devil to continue to wreak havoc on earth, I can better see the beauty in waiting:T He invites more into everlasting life with Him.
Image: freeimages/Tom Pickering