Surely Solzhenitsyn’s greatest work was his extraordinary writing. Underneath his contributions to literature are his flesh and blood contributions to faith and life. Two of his books stand out: The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. These works describe the life of a prisoner in the notorious Russian gulags. They also signal the inhumane consequences of a bad idea: totalitarianism and Communism. Both of those ideas are infused with a seminal, corrupting idea of “no God.” Without God, culture hardens and begins to destroy its own. This is what Communism did in the 20th century.
I was born in the midst of that century. My early years of military service were spent in the Cold War seeking to undo that system (in my own small way). But this man’s death causes me to remember the horror of that system. And as I do I remember that there are believers, like Solzhenitsyn, still suffering under dictatorships, totalitarian governments, and oppressive regimes. The Communist super powers are (almost) gone, but the bad idea of “no God” persists in human history. Solzhenitsyn’s death calls us to remember that there are believers who worship in fear.
Just this past week, while on annual chaplain duty in Washington DC, my family and I worshipped at The Falls Church. Sunday, when Solzhenitsyn left the chains of this present evil age, the minister, with no knowledge of his death, called us to remember the believers around the world that day for whom he said “worship is dangerous.”
As the congregation knelt in the beauty of that venerable sanctuary I looked around. “…for whom worship is dangerous.” Those words hit me. Worshipping Jesus Christ is worth giving our lives for. And this is what Alexander Solzhenitsyn might have taught us best.
St. Paul wrote to the Church and the Holy Spirit speaks today, perhaps through the prayers of a nameless woman in China, or a child who has come to faith in Iran, or a family gathered with others for secret prayer in North Korea:
Remember my chains. Grace be with you (Colossians 4:18 ESV).