Every few years I re-read Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago for its chronicle of heroism and mind-boggling wickedness, its powerful phrasing, its uncompromising honesty and moral beauty, its vicious wit and wisdom. It describes the criminality and crushed lives, the rottenness, and colossal scale of murder and mayhem in this sinister era of Russian history. Gulag is one of the greatest books ever written.
And there are many lessons to take from it. The easy one is an abiding thankfulness that we walk freely, that we can do simple things, like drink a beer, that a prisoner could only dream of. And maybe after a deeper reading it is evident how evil so often backfires, that it cannot shake the good that attends it despite evil’s worst intentions.
After this reading, however, another more practical thought took hold. It is unlikely that we will ever live in conditions like the Gulag in this lifetime. So why is this book so relevant? Maybe because Hell is worse. Yes, Hell is worse. It’s worse than the starvation and torture and filth and treachery in the worst prison of the archipelago. It has none of Gulag’s rare conveniences such as friendship and a bit of water. And it is everlasting. We ought to heed the call of Isaiah 55: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. “