In his booklet When Everything Goes Wrong, Adrian Rogers tells the story of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn, a Christian, was a Russian writer who was an outspoken critic of communism and the Soviet Union. In February of 1945, he was arrested for making disparaging remarks against Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin and was sentenced to the Soviet Union’s “gulag” system of forced-labor camps. He would remain a prisoner for the next eight years, being assigned to different camps and different work details over the course of those years.
As a prisoner, Solzhenitsyn was not allowed any mail, newspapers, magazines, or letters. He had absolutely no communication with the outside world. He couldn’t write any letters, either. The rules of imprisonment in the “gulag” camps were so extreme that the prisoners were not even allowed to communicate with each other.
Each day was filled with nothing but hard, physical labor that was carried out in either scorching heat or brutal cold. Guards stood in constant watch over the prisoners, and the food rations were very meager. Nighttime didn’t provide much relief as the beds were barely beds.
After enduring such conditions for years, there came a time when Solzhenitsyn decided to end his suffering by committing suicide. But the more he thought about that drastic course of action, the more he realized that he couldn’t go through with it. His Christian faith simply wouldn’t allow for it.
Solzhenitsyn’s misery was so consuming, however, that his mind quickly hatched another idea: he would try to escape by breaking and running. He thought, “Even if I’m shot in the back, at least I’ll be free from this awful existence. And my death won’t be my fault.”
And so the day came that Solzhenitsyn had decided would be his last, one way or the other, as a prisoner. After a period of the day’s typical grueling work, the prisoners were given a few moments of rest. Solzhenitsyn made his way over to a tree and sat down under it. As he sat there, he intently watched the guard who had a rifle. That guard would be the one to shoot him in the back if the escape didn’t work.
Solzhenitsyn knew that the prisoners’ moment of rest wouldn’t last long, and so he figured that now was the time to attempt his escape. He put his hands to the ground and was ready to push himself up into his best run, but at that very moment another prisoner, one he had not seen before, walked up to him and stood directly in front of him. Solzhenitsyn couldn’t believe the man’s timing.
Since the guard with the rifle was standing right there, the two prisoners didn’t dare try to communicate. But the other prisoner looked into Solzhenitsyn’s eyes with such love and compassion that Solzhenitsyn entire demeanor changed. He would later say of the prisoner’s look, “Though he uttered not a word, there was a look upon his face that spoke volumes to my heart.”
Now that the prisoner had Solzhenitsyn’s unspoken attention, the man used a branch from the tree to doodle on the ground in such a childlike, harmless way that the nearby guard didn’t even bother to investigate. And what did the prisoner doodle? Solzhenitsyn looked down and to his surprise saw that the seemingly random doodle was not random at all. It was a cross!
The moment Solzhenitsyn saw the cross he knew that his plan to either escape or be killed was not of God. So right there on the spot he asked God to forgive him. And it was only a few days later that Solzhenitsyn learned the reason why God had intervened so marvelously to keep him from attempting his escape. To quote Solzhenitsyn, “Little did I know that all over the world people were pleading my cause, and that in just three days I would be a free man in Geneva, Switzerland. Three days!”