By Jerry Drace
Evangelist/Senior Pastor, Friendship Baptist Church, Friendship
As the last grains of sand ran out of the 2020 hourglass I read once again the speech of Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn given on June 8, 1978, at the Harvard University commencement service. They were profound at the time and prophetic for 2021.
A portion of his speech follows and concludes with my personal comments. His entire speech can be found at: https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/alexandersolzhenitsynharvard.htm.
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 …”
Concerning freedom, Solzhenitsyn stated, “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. Should one point out that from ancient times declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end?”
Concerning the press, Solzhenitsyn stated, “The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. The press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislative power, the executive, and the judiciary.How many hasty, immature, superficial and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification? 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.”
Solzhenitsyn then gives what I would call an invitation: “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… It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge … No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.”
The words of Solzhenitsyn remind me of the words of Jeremiah spoken to the children of Israel. Regarding our culture, we as Americans have more but enjoy our possessions less. We buy things, we do not want, just to impress people we do not like.
Regarding our freedoms, we have politicians recommending the destructive philosophies of narcissistic dictators while rejecting the constructive principles of our founding fathers. Regarding the press, fiction has replaced facts. Regarding religion, many churches focus on entertainment rather than enlightenment. Happiness not holiness, convenience not commitment are the shallow sermons from behind many pulpits in our nation.
Solzhenitsyn concluded his speech at Harvard with these words, “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” It was true in 1978. It is true in 2021. Each day I turn the hourglass over on my desk. It is a constant reminder of the words of the Apostle Paul, “See then that you walk carefully, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Fellow believers, it is time to turn over the hourglass.