Frank Johnson

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Many who live in the Pacific Northwest remember the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980. That Sunday morning, many people were at church. When the news of the volcano’s eruption hit, and the smoke and ash plume began to spread across the center of Washington state, folks were told to go home and wait it all out. The blast set off an earthquake of 5.1 on the Richter Scale. The vertical plume of gas and smoke rose 16 miles above the ground and eventually plunged even Spokane into total darkness, 250 miles away. I was in Southern California going to school at the time and did not get back to Washington to see the aftermath until later that summer. Even in summer, ash lined the ditches in every road in central and southern Washington. It was surreal.

I called January 6 a “volcanic day in American politics” in my daily devotional message. That was the day that the presidential election was set to be certified in the Congress as the electoral votes were counted and registered. It was also the day for a runoff election in Georgia for both of the state’s senatorial candidates. The political mountain had been blowing steam and smoke and causing rumblings all year, as organizations such as Antifa and BLM, along with many other protesters in general took to the streets, often leading to violent and destructive outbursts. Even after all of that, I did not anticipate the extent of the eruption in the nation’s capital. The violence from the radical left through all of 2020 finally rebounded from the radical right. We watched on TV as the House chambers were breeched by rioters.

From my vantage point, it appears that extremists on both sides of the political spectrum have scorned the rule of law. We do not want a new incarnation of Marxism that swallowed up 100 million people in the 20th century, and we do not want its ungodly opposite from the other side. We need to reread Alexandr Solzhenitsyn — and our Bibles.

Solzhenitsyn was the novelist and essayist who drew back the curtain on the corruption and devastation of the communist system in the Soviet Union. His book “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” unveiled the degradation of the prison camps. The GULAG Archipelago detailed the entire Soviet prison system with stark and unflinching honesty. He had survived for eight years within that system and somehow managed to come out the other side alive. He believed that he had lived to tell the stories of those who had not. While he described the Blue Caps, the soulless prison interrogators, he stepped back to reflect. In that context, he wrote his most often quoted and memorable passage. He muses that it was easy to identify the arbitrary cruelty of the Blue Caps, but that before they were given that job, they were basically ordinary people … like himself. And he observes, “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

I suggest that we need to remember this in the wake of events this past year and on January 6. This is where the witness of Scripture becomes especially helpful: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sounds a lot like “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being,” doesn’t it? Every one of us needs God’s truth and grace (keep reading in Romans 3!).

In the speech Solzhenitsyn gave after receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature, he quoted a common Russian saying from his childhood, that he believed explained the challenges of the 20th century: “We have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” It is time to remember, and to humble ourselves before God and each other.

Frank Johnson in the pastor of the Chestnut Street Baptist Church in Ellensburg.

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