Freedom No One Can Take Away

“There you are, Ivan Denisovich, your soul is begging to pray. Why don’t you give it its freedom?” (161) 

In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, author and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn presents Ivan, a man yearning to be released from the Soviet gulag. Near the end of the one day the book depicts, Ivan has a conversation with Alyosha, a Christian whose joy defies the prison atmosphere.

In their exchange, Ivan acknowledges the existence of God but he’s seen corruption in the church. Alyosha replies, “It’s because their faith is unstable that they’re not in prison.” Only those with steadfast faith go to jail.

Only the faithful pay a price.

As the conversation continues, Ivan questions the power of prayer. “However much you pray it doesn’t shorten your stretch. You’ll sit it out from beginning to end anyhow.”

What Alyosha says in response is surprising. Stunning, in fact.

“Why do you want freedom? In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds” (163).

Now there’s a thought that seldom creeps into the minds of American Christians. For more than two centuries, America has been the land where faith is free. There is little if any cost. We only see advantages to our freedom, never disadvantages.

Right now religious freedom in America hangs in the balance between two ways of thinking.  

We are not quite one vote away from the gulag. But we may be closer than we realize to losing our freedom to speak and write, to proclaim Christ without cost. The threat that stands in the shadows now is our right to stand on the moral ground shaped through the blood and tears of martyrs, missionaries, visionaries, and great heroes who came before us.

One was William Wilberforce, who devoted his life to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor who resisted the Nazis in Germany. One of his co-conspirators was Claus von Stauffenberg, who planned the assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. Maximilian Kolbe gave his life to save a prisoner he never met before. Mother Teresa cared for the poorest of the poor. The list goes on and dates back to the earliest days of the Church.

These heroes lived in different times; they faced different challenges. All of them made great sacrifices for their faith. Those who lived with less freedom than we know still spoke, still acted. 

Someday, religious freedom may be no more in America. But make no mistake, we will still be free. We will still be able to speak, write, petition, proclaim. The only difference is that, then, doing so will cost us.

I remember something a friend quoted to me by Allen Boesak many years ago: “When we go before Him, God will ask, “Where are your wounds?” And we will say, “I have no wounds.” And God will ask, “Was there nothing worth fighting for?”

Our times are troubled. There are reasons to worry. But there are more reasons not to worry.

Alyosha said, “Of all earthly and mortal things Our Lord commanded us to pray only for our daily bread” (162).

Ask for daily bread. Thank Him when it comes.
And leave the rest to Him.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

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22 Replies to “Freedom No One Can Take Away”

  1. Powerful blog; will be reflecting on its message. I try to read Eric Metaxes’s Bonhoeffer bio every year to remind me what happens when godly people resist evil… and when they don’t.

    1. Wow, what a commitment, Candice. The moment I love to savor from that book is when Bonhoeffer realizes others will think badly of him for appearing to work with the Nazis. He calls that dying to self. Wow. We expect that when we’re dying to self that we’ll at least look good to others. A real epiphany for me. Thanks and God bless!

  2. Such convicting quotes – especially “Why do you want freedom? In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds.”
    Ouch.
    And another one by Allen Boesak : “When we go before Him, God will ask, “Where are your wounds?” And we will say, “I have no wounds.” And God will ask, “Was there nothing worth fighting for?”
    And then finally, “Someday, religious freedom may be no more in America. But make no mistake, we will still be free. We will still be able to speak, write, petition, proclaim. The only difference is that, then, doing so will cost us.”

    Thank you for giving me so much to chew on this morning!

  3. “However much you pray it doesn’t shorten your stretch. You’ll sit it out from beginning to end anyhow.” This line got me thinking about how we often think prayer doesn’t change our circumstances, we just have to do our time. But oh how this perspective misses the way prayer enriches the stretch. How it deepens our relationship with the Father. Fosters our gratitude. Cleanses our souls, Eases our worries. So while prayer might not “shorten the stretch” it does change us as we walk it out.

    1. Solzhenitsyn crafted this work brilliantly. He doesn’t make the guy with the main message the main character. I love having students read this book. I hope we all can realize how much prayer can help us do our time. Thanks, Anne, and God bless!

  4. Wow, these quotes, these heroes of the faith. I want to count the cost because true disciples do. I want to bear wounds because true followers of Jesus Christ must. And I want to fight for freedom whatever comes our way, not even the gates of hell can stand against our real freedom in Christ. Beautifully said!

  5. Powerful message with lots to think about. It is so difficult for any of us here in the US to understand suffering for our faith. If true persecution comes to us here I often wonder if I can continue to stand for Christ. I pray for His strength if that day comes. Thanks

  6. Oh Nancy, this is serious food for thought.
    These lines stopped me in my tracks:
    Alyosha replies, “It’s because their faith is unstable that they’re not in prison.” Only those with steadfast faith go to jail.
    Only the faithful pay a price.

    When Jesus returns will He find any who are faithful?
    Jesus, let me be among the faithful.

  7. We really have no idea here in the western world. I never want to take it for granted, but I know I do. I hope everything I do now is preparing my heart for the day all the freedom may be taken away. Thanks for the reminder!

  8. You have the voice of a prophet. The message you proclaim here is 100% correct, the same sort of things that Jeremiah the prophet proclaimed and that got him in trouble. Our freedom of expression as Christians is quickly eroded, being shouted down, tweets taken down, and forbidden in some circles. We can no longer say that things are sin which the Bible clearly labels as sin. We can no longer assume that freedom of religion is guaranteed. But, like you said, we can indeed continue to speak, but now there is a cost. I hope and pray that we will have the courage to continue to stand up unflinchingly for Christ like the apostles, the prophets, the young men in exile (Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah), and the martyrs did, always have done.

  9. Nancy, this hits hard. As a Christian, my freedom is in Christ. He brings liberation from the world, sin, fear, everything. I am humbled and inspired by the courage of people who have had to pay such a price to spread His name.

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