Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Russian hero

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died Sunday. I'm late posting, but that's for the best. Better writers have eulogized him very eloquently, sharing his writings and wisdom, observing the impact he made on Russia as it struggled to survive through the communist regime. His writings that revealed the horrors of Stalin's Gulag, and his boldness to denounce humanity's continual complicity with such barbarism granted him hero status in the literary world.

He saw what men needed was truth and the courage to face it, speak it and proclaim it in all areas of life:

"But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest: On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence, or toward spiritual servitude.

"And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul -- don't let him be proud of his "progressive" views, and don't let him boast that he is an academician or a people's artist, a merited figure, or a general --let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It's all the same to me as long as I'm fed and warm."


He had the best pulpit in the world to preach from -prison.

It was good enough for Jeremiah; it was good enough for the apostle Paul; it was good enough for Aleksandr. Even Joseph as betrayed by his brothers found an Egyptian prison a place to be blessed by God and even lifted up higher than he ever was before his imprisonment.

Strange, isn't it?

Why does it work that way with prophetic voices? Is it because when men arbitrarily lock up dissidents that God rewards their pain, their just cause?

No. God does not reward us because we suffer. Otherwise, all masochists would go to heaven.

Rather, the Bible teaches us that the Father of Lies, Satan, is "now at work in the sons of disobedience". That he has "all the kingdoms of the world" and they are "his to give to whomever he pleases."

So the first act of freedom, as Aleksandr said, was to not lie. Not be complicit in lies. Not vote for anything or anyone that he knew to be wrong.

I tell you the truth, it is a lonely position. But when you are in prison, when you have nothing left to lose, you are pretty sick and tired of trying to please the unpleaseable. You are angry that you ever tried to "go along" or be "one of the gang".

It was that revelation that prompted Aleksandr's writings -seeing his own sin, his own failure:

Bless You, Prison!” by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

“It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor.

In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts…

That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: ‘Bless you, prison!’ I…have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: ‘Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!’”

–Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, Vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Row, 1973), 615-17.


As a follower of Christ, I have tried to be perfectly clear what the Bible teaches about sin and its consequences. I have also tried to clean my own house first and what I find there really educates me how much I need the grace of God AND the power of the Holy Spirit, or I would be worse than any other mortal on this Earth. I understand villainy far too easily.

But enough about me - how about you?

That's a joke. You don't have to tell me. I know already.

You live much of life afraid of not having enough money, if you will ever be truly loved and accepted and you avoid thinking about death, but somehow assure yourself God will bring you to heaven cause you:
a) got baptized/confirmed in the Church
b) try to treat people as you would be treated
c) live a moral life most of the time
Those are all good things, and I personally enjoy the company of people who try to be good and seek it for others. But now it is time for the truth: only Jesus Christ can save you.

Without Him, you are condemned.

You are condemned to be a slave, a servant of forces that will demand your obedience -and that force demanding such is not God, but Satan. Satan uses fear constantly to intimidate and control, just as the Soviet regime did.

Christ grants us true, holistic, complete salvation -not just so when we DIE we go to heaven. He ain't interested in being our "get out of Hell free" card or our insurance agent.

He is interested in placing "the kingdom of heaven... within you". He is interested in transforming your heart.

You need it though you might not admit it. But like Aleksandr said, if you are warm and well-fed, you will stay precisely where you are.

Jesus has to blast away our cheap and tawdry ideas to get us to Himself: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life..."

I think we want Jesus to be much less interested in us.

It is too breathtaking, too severe, this desire for us. Oswald Chambers, (My Utmost for His Highest) said this about the Christ-follower's life:

"People pour themselves into their own doctrines, and God has to blast them out of their preconceived ideas before they can become devoted to Jesus Christ."

We want Jesus to save us from Hell. Jesus wants rather to make us fit for Heaven.

Or in other words, we want to be left alone, be nice, smile and get a few goodies (a little sex here, a drink or two, a little raise, etc.) and He wants to take us on a grand adventure and bring us glory. He knows what we do not: we are living in a vale of illusion.

I don't know about you, but my last job in an Ad Agency put to death my idea of what was cool and good. Jesus taught me differently. I learned more of Christ in the Inner City and in the local jail than I ever did sitting on a church pew.

And, it seems, so did Aleksandr. He died with his faith in God and in His Christ.

Thanks, Aleksandr. I will be talking with you later.

Amen.

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