God Sees the Truth, But Waits

by Leo Tolstoy

Start Free Trial

What does the title "God Sees the Truth, But Waits" mean in Leo Tolstoy's context?

Quick answer:

What Leo Tolstoy means by “God Sees the Truth, But Waits” is that God moves in mysterious ways. In other words, God doesn't always act in the way we would expect him to act. That doesn't mean, however, that God isn't always aware of the truth. It's just that we, as imperfect creatures, don't see the truth in the way that God sees it.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The structure of the short story "God Sees the Truth, But Waits" by Leo Tolstoy consists of two major events in the life of Ivan Dmitrich Aksionov, a Russian merchant. In the first part of the story, he is young and handsome and has a wife and family. He sets off for a trade fair. On the way, he is falsely accused of committing a murder and arrested. Because the murder weapon is found in his luggage, he is unable to defend himself. After a final tearful farewell to his wife, Aksionov is sent off to a hard labor camp in Siberia.

The next incident takes place twenty-six years later. Aksionov is still in the Siberian prison camp. He is now old and gray. A prisoner named Makar, who turns out to be the real murderer, arrives. Aksionov finds out that Makar is the man who really killed the other merchant twenty-six years ago. Makar digs an escape tunnel, and Aksionov knows it but does not turn him in. The repentant Makar confesses to the crime, but by the time Aksionov's pardon arrives, he has already died.

Although Tolstoy was eventually excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church, he was a deeply religious man, and this story is a reflection of his strongly held beliefs. To understand the proverb that comprises the title of this story, we have to consider God as a central but unseen character. After Aksionov's imprisonment in Siberia, he buys a book called The Lives of the Saints and prays often. He is respected by the prison authorities and by his fellow prisoners. However, deep in his heart he carries the pain of his unjust arrest and imprisonment. That's why when he finds out that Makar is the real killer, he becomes so angry and miserable. He does not find peace until he decides to forgive Makar and not turn him in. Makar, in turn, decides to confess to the authorities so that Aksionov can be freed.

It would be simplistic to claim that the title of the story means that truth eventually wins out over falsehood, because in a materialistic sense, this does not happen. Although the truth does come out, Aksionov never gets to enjoy his freedom. He dies in prison. The title "God Sees the Truth, But Waits" has mainly a spiritual application in this story. The real triumph is when Aksionov lets go of his anger and misery, proclaims to Makar that "God will forgive you," and finds peace. His heart grows light, the desire to return home leaves him, and he only longs for death. In reference to the title, God sees the truth that Aksionov will only find peace when he lets go of his anger and misery, but he waits for Aksionov to see this for himself.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

God sees the truth of Aksionov's innocence. He knows that Aksionov did not stab the merchant to death at the inn where they were both staying. He also knows that Makar was the real murderer; he knows that he is the guilty one.

And yet, poor old Aksionov festers in a Siberian prison for twenty-six years, while Makar gets away for the most serious crime of all. This unfortunate state of affairs would lead some to ask why God did nothing to prevent such an appalling miscarriage of justice from taking place. God saw the truth but waited instead of meting out instant divine justice.

But Tolstoy's understanding of God is much more complicated than that. Though a highly unorthodox Christian in many respects, Tolstoy was at least conventional enough to believe that God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.

This means that, what from our perspective may not look like justice at all, is indeed just from God's perspective. God sees everything, whereas we, as imperfect humans, only see a relatively small part of a much bigger picture. That being the case, we should have complete faith that God will bring justice, that He will judge men for their actions and act accordingly.

Divine justice, perfect in every way, is contrasted sharply in the story with the imperfections of the criminal justice system that condemned an innocent man to prison. God has His own ways, and it is therefore wrong of us to judge Him by His own standards. All that we can do is to place our faith in the Almighty and be certain that He sees the truth and will always ensure justice, even if, from our limited viewpoints, we can see no justice in the world.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is important not to neglect the last two words of the title: "But Waits." 

An important element of the story is that the truth comes out, but only after waiting a long time.  The reader knows from the very beginning that Aksionov is innocent; a clever reader also figures out fairly early that Makar Semyonich must be the real villain.  Justice, however, is not arrived at until the very end of the story, when--years later after the crime--Makar confesses and Aksionov dies a contented man.

The "moral" of the story is debatable.  Is Tolstoy saying that we must have faith that God will eventually bring justice to every situation?  Or is he cynically pointing out that justice sometimes arrives too late?  That is for you, the reader, to decide.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial