As the last grains of sand ran out of the 2020 hourglass I read once again the words of Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. They were spoken on June 8, 1978, at the Harvard University commencement service. They have proven to be not only profound but prophetic.
These visionary and discerning words capture the culture which we have allowed to flourish and grow in our nation. Please take a moment to ponder over the truth and insight of this Russian novelist, philosopher, historian, short story writer, and political prisoner as midnight 2020 approaches.
Concerning our Western culture, Solzhenitsyn said:
Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness…however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to obtain them imprint many Western faces with worry and even depression…. The majority of people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about; it has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, leading them to physical splendor, happiness, possession of material goods, money and leisure, to an almost unlimited freedom of enjoyment. So, who should now renounce all this, why and for what should one risk one's precious life in defense of common values?
Concerning freedom, Solzhenitsyn stated:
Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the…misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, such as motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counter-balanced by the young people's right not to look or not to accept…. Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil…[was] born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent to human nature; the world belongs to mankind and all the defects of life are caused by wrong social systems which must be corrected.
Concerning the press Solzhenitsyn stated:
The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. But what sort of use does it make of this freedom? … How many hasty, immature, superficial and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus, we may see terrorists described as heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one's nation's defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: ‘Everyone is entitled to know everything.’ But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know, and it is a much more valuable [right]. The right not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information. … In spite of the abundance of information, or maybe because of it, the West has difficulties in understanding reality such as it is.
Concerning religion in America Solzhenitsyn shared what he called “spiritual exhaustion”. He states:
The human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music …. There are meaningful warnings that history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen. There are open and evident warnings, too. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden, crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, and the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.
He then gives what I would call an “Invitation" here:
Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction…. If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge: We shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era. No one on earth has any other way left but – upward. If I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.”
These words are as relevant and factual today as when they first spoken forty-two years ago. Indeed, men have forgotten God. There is no longer that deep respect and reverence for the things which are holy. We have so accommodated our shallow, narcissistic culture that even in the church, or especially in the church, we seek entertainment over enlightenment and seek convenience over commitment.
The hourglass on my desk is a constant reminder that our time continues to run out. 2020 is history. It is time to renew our commitment to Christ as we turn the hourglass over.
(Editor's Note: Jerry Drace, evangelist and pastor, is the author of this blog.)