Thank You, Lord, for Solzhenitsyn

Yesterday Alexander Solzhenitsyn died at the age of 89. I pause here on my vacation in the woods of Wisconsin to say, Thank you, heavenly Father, for the inspiration of this man’s life.

No one did more than Solzhenitsyn to expose the horrors of the failed communist experiment in Russia. Hitler’s purge would pale, if such things could pale, when compared to ten times the carnage in Stalin’s gulags.

Solzhenitsyn inspired me because of the suffering he endured and the effect it had on him. Here is the quote that I have not forgotten. It moves me deeply to this day. After his imprisonment in the Russian gulag of Joseph Stalin’s “corrective labor camps” Solzhenitsyn wrote:

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!” (The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, Vol. 2, 615-617)

O that I would be done with murmuring against my tiny prisons. Lord, grant me greater faith to live in the coming day when I will say, “Bless you, all hardship and pain! You have cut me off from the death of prosperous idolatry again and again.”

Thank you, God, for the life and work of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.