God Sees the Truth, But Waits

by Leo Tolstoy

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What does Aksionov realize by the end of the story "God Sees the Truth, but Waits"?

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Aksionov realizes that forgiveness is the path to peace.

In the story, Aksionov suffers in prison for twenty-six years. Coincidentally, the man who is responsible for his unenviable situation ends up in the same prison as him.

In the story, Makar Semyonich confesses that he was the one who killed the merchant and planted the murder weapon in Aksionov's belongings.

When Aksionov reminisces about everything he has lost, his anger rises against Makar Semyonich. He has little peace, despite his prayers to God. In the end, an opportunity arises for Aksionov to betray Makar Semyonich and cause his archenemy suffer. For his part, Aksionov considers telling the guards that Makar Semyonich has been digging a tunnel in order to aid his escape from prison.

However, when the time comes, Aksionov chooses not to betray Makar Semyonich. Aksionov concludes that making Semyonich suffer will do nothing to restore his past life to him. Specifically, it will not return his youth, health, or family to him. Those gifts are no longer his to claim. Aksionov is prematurely old, and there is no action he can take now to restore his youth to him. Aksionov decides to stay silent when he is questioned by the Governor.

Later in the night, Makar Semyonich approaches Aksionov and asks for his forgiveness. For his part, Aksionov chooses not to speak words of condemnation to Makar. Instead, he assures his old enemy that God will forgive him. As for Aksionov, he finally realizes that forbearance and forgiveness are the only paths to peace.

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Aksionov realizes that, as man-made justice is imperfect, it is not his place to report Makar Semyonovich to the authorities for his escape attempt. Aksionov himself is a victim of man-made justice, and has come to understand, during his lengthy incarceration in the gulag, that true justice can only be dispensed by God Himself, however long that may take.

Even when he discovers that it was Makar who committed the crime for which he's been unjustly imprisoned, Aksionov still maintains his faith in divine justice and forgives Makar his transgressions against him. Aksionov's realization brings him inner peace, so much so that he achieves spiritual freedom before man-made justice finally does its job and releases him from the prison camp. Based as it is upon an imperfect human notion of justice, the penal system is unable to approximate to that divine justice which has released Aksionov's soul from bondage to the things of this world.

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