Solzhenitsyn and Public Repentance


German newspaper Spiegel has posted a recent interview with Alexander Solzhenitsyn. It is interesting for a number of points, but what most intrigued me is his call for the authorities of his own Russia to offer public repentance for their crimes against millions of victims of the gulag and communist terror. Yet, he says, “I have grown used to the fact that, throughout the world, public repentance is the most unacceptable option for the modern politician.”

Putin himself has said, in the words of the interviewer, “high time to stop this masochistic brooding over the past, especially since there are attempts “from outside,” as he puts it, to provoke an unjustified remorse among Russians.”

Masochistic brooding over the past? Unjustified remorse among Russians? What audacity! How shameless! Ultimate chutzpah. Want a counter-example? Germany. They’ve owned up to the Nazi’s crimes and they deplore them. In fact, they work hard to ensure no one ever forgets the evils Nazism inflicted on the peoples of Europe.

I find all of this is very insightful spiritually. It illustrates a number of important truths of Scripture, most particularly, the depravity of man that goes on the defensive when confronted with his sin. No one likes to be held accountable for crimes they’ve committed against God or others, especially publicly. How often, instead of instant humility and grief, we react with the same offended criticism toward the one calling our sins (or the sins of our forefathers) to our attention – just like Putin has done.

Instead of owning up to the blame, we deny our guilt. Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, we blame the other person: Adam blamed Eve blamed the Serpent. And the pattern continues. We are sons and daughters of Adam indeed.

Solzhenitsyn continues this observation well when he then says, “The elder political generation in communist countries was not ready for repentance, while the new generation is only too happy to voice grievances and level accusations, with present-day Moscow a convenient target. They behave as if they heroically liberated themselves and lead a new life now, while Moscow has remained communist. Nevertheless, I dare hope that this unhealthy phase will soon be over, that all the peoples who have lived through communism will understand that communism is to blame for the bitter pages of their history.”

He’s afraid no one will own up to the root problem – the root cause of so much evil and pain.

But just as Scripture asserts, Solzhenitsyn recognizes that, “We should clearly understand that only the voluntary and conscientious acceptance by a people of its guilt can ensure the healing of a nation.”

Amen. And an individual as well.

Repentance is required for forgiveness. It’s part of the Gospel, being the inseparable partner of the faith we place in Christ. It is a turning away from our sins and idols to Christ and His righteousness alone. This is the root of the Gospel. The Gospel is about dealing with sin, with calling people to repentance and forgiveness.

Would to God pastors today were as bold in calling their hearers to repentance as Solzhenitsyn is in calling his nation to it. That would require pastors to really believe that sinners need to repent before they could enjoy the spiritual healing and joyful promises of the Gospel. Too often pastors tend to emphasize the latter at the expense of the former.

The article recounts how Solzhenitsyn was willing to decline the praise of men’s awards. That’s a good example for pastors to quit worrying about their listeners liking them more than worrying about making sure they’re hearing the whole, un-watered-down truth of the Gospel – including the hard parts about sin, repentance and denying yourself to follow Christ.

This article made me stop and examine my own readiness to own up to my sins and repent of them quickly. And it made me think of my own faithfulness in my ministry as a minister of the Gospel. Please pray for me.


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