Nothing in the gospel seems more psychologically impossible than the command to love not just our neighbors but even our enemies. Many wonder: Could such love be only an unattainable ideal, to which we must try to come as close as we can?

If it were possible to describe love for one’s enemies in a way that is psychologically plausible, then, Dostoyevsky believed, we could believe it is really possible. But Dostoyevsky was unable to do it. Tolstoy alone succeeded. He does so by breaking consciousness into tiny steps. Each small step seems plausible and so when we reach the conclusion, we grant it. In War and Peace, Tolstoy has Prince Andrei pity his enemy before he knows it is his enemy. Love for his enemy comes to him as a gift, but the key moment is his acknowledging and accepting this love. Enlightenment comes unwilled, by sheer grace; but it matters only because the hero chooses to embrace it.

Tolstoy’s characters make redemption seem possible.