Friday, December 07, 2012

Solzhenitsyn on Suffering

Americans, even American Christians, tend to be shaped more by materialistic attitudes of comfort, health and pleasure than we are by the teachings of Holy Scripture. It is no wonder then that we are often clueless about the rich purposes of God which can be accomplished through suffering.

We want to be happy and fulfilled and popular -- even if Christianity has to be altered to make it conform to our wishes. We therefore miss out on much of what could transform us into the image of Christ. The Bible teaches that suffering is a normal part of life and, handled rightly, our suffering can yield an abundance of spiritual fruit.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, imprisoned in the Soviet prisons for years, learned this lesson well. For instance, in the second volume of his masterful work, The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn quotes approvingly an old Russian proverb, “If trouble comes, make use of it too.”

Well, trouble came in big doses to Solzhenitsyn: horrible overwork, constant intimidation and mistreatment, severe malnutrition, mental torture, life-threatening cancer, and years of separation from his friends, family and career.

Yet, as he developed his life of prayer and patience there in the camps, God was able to bring Alexander Solzhenitsyn to faith in Jesus Christ and to mold him into a spiritual champion -- a champion who would, quite literally, change the world. Solzhenitsyn knew well that that Russian proverb quoted above, so Christian in its import, was the key to these miracles. Even his gifts as a writer and historian, he credited to his sufferings: “I can say without affectation that I belong to the Russian convict world no less and owe no less to it, than I do to Russian literature. I got my education there and it will last forever.”

It is of the utmost value, however, for us to remember that it wasn’t just the trial that produced the treasure of Alexander Solzhenitsyn -- it was the trial rightly used to grow closer to God and thus become a better servant to man.