Telling the Truth

It was 1966, and the then little-known Russian writer, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, had been invited to do a public reading at the Soviet Union's Lazarev Institute. But that particular night, instead of simply reading chapters from his novels, Solzhenitsyn launched into a vicious extemporaneous attack on the KGB and the entire censorship apparatus in his country. Former Time magazine senior correspondent David Aikman describes the scene in a new book, Great Souls, which singles out five heroes who changed the century, each by embodying a particular virtue. Solzhenitsyn is celebrated for his willingness to speak the truth. Recalling that extraordinary night some 30 years ago, Solzhenitsyn recalls: "Almost every [sentence] scorched the air like gunpowder! How those people must have yearned for truth! Oh God, how badly they wanted to hear the truth!" Aikman says that evening marked the beginning of something. Solzhenitsyn, he writes, "seemed to be responding to a new sense of calling, not simply to write the truth in defiance of the authorities, but to stand up in public against the authorities themselves." Solzhenitsyn's stature as a truth-telling prophet is unparalleled in the twentieth century. In the mid-seventies, when Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Christian writer Malcolm Muggeridge called him "the greatest man now alive in the world." In 1994 David Remnick, today editor of the New Yorker magazine, said that "in terms of the effect he has had on history, Solzhenitsyn is the dominant writer of this century." Born in 1918, Solzehnitsyn grew up under the Leninist regime. Although he was raised a sincere Orthodox Christian, it wasn't long before Solzhenitsyn espoused the Marxist views of the Soviet government. But in 1945, in a letter to a friend, he made the mistake of criticizing Stalin. Solzhenitsyn was promptly sentenced to eight hellish years in the Soviet labor camps. This horror later formed the basis of many of his subsequent novels like First Circle and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. While in the camps, Solzhenitsyn met several Christians who helped him see the "ultimate folly" of Marxist thinking. And then one night he was marvelously converted to Christ. Soon thereafter he was miraculously healed from cancer, and he knew God had a purpose for his life. He continued to speak the truth about God, about the camps, and about the Soviet regime, indifferent to the danger it posed to him. Solzhenitsyn's brave writings culminated most famously in his Gulag Archipelago, which diplomat George Kennan hailed as the "greatest and most powerful single indictment of a political regime in modern times." It brought Solzhenitsyn to the West's attention, focused on the horrors of communism and played a key role in the unraveling of the Soviet Union itself. Think of it: Speaking the truth shook an entire evil empire, one built upon lies--especially the lie that there is no God. Read David Aikman's wonderful book describing this twentieth-century giant. And then tell your kids about Solzhenitsyn. Today, when we seem to have so few leaders with the moral courage to speak the truth, our kids need to learn of genuine heroes whose words and deeds have changed the world forever. Changed it because they were willing to speak the truth--no matter the cost.


Chuck Colson



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