For those of you raised in the 1970s (like me) the name of Alexander Solzhenitsyn is probably a familiar name. He was the famous Soviet dissident who was exiled from the USSR and made quite a splash over here in the United States and Western Europe. His books “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denosovich” and “The Gulag Archipelago” exposed the horrors of Soviet communism and their extermination/slave labor camps. But Solzhenitsyn did not theorize about these things or write stories he heard second-hand. He actually lived these stories as a political prisoner of Joseph Stalin.
Solzhenitsyn was born in 1918 and grew up educated in atheistic Soviet socialism. He was a true believer. In World War 2 he was a decorated Soviet artillery captain. When the Russians moved into East Prussia (a part of Nazi Germany) in 1945, he witnessed first hand the brutal massacres of German civilians at the hands of Soviet troops. He knew that the Russian troops were justifying this–it was “payback” for the brutal treatment of Russian civilians by German troops just a few years before. However, even as an atheist he knew that revenge and cruelty are never right. He wrote a letter home that was critical of Stalin and Russian troops. Big mistake. Big Brother was censoring all mail, and he was arrested and sent off to a Soviet gulag (concentration camp) in Siberia for eight years.
When he was released he was then placed in “internal exile” by the state police. While there, Solzhenitsyn was diagnosed with cancer, and was treated by a Jewish doctor, a fellow prisoner. His name was Dr. Kornfeld. This kindly doctor was also a believer in Jesus Christ, and quietly told Alexander about his faith in Christ. The doctor was later murdered in the prison, but Solzhenitsyn never forgot him. While he was in captivity, the Soviet political prisoner put his faith in Christ. Later he joined the Russian Orthodox Church and protested Soviet communism to his dying day.
How did Solzhenitsyn look at his time in captivity? Of course he saw it as cruel and unjust for himself and for all his fellow prisoners. And yet, he saw that through the suffering, God used all the events to get his attention and mold him and shape him into a useful tool to help liberate others. Years later, Solzhenitsyn wrote: “Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”