Yesterday, under clear blue skies, I went for walk. As I strolled across green fields all was quiet, the silence only broken by the sound of my footsteps, the birds singing in the trees and the hum of a light aircraft overhead. I was conscious of how different things were for so many of my fellow Europeans whose lives are so very different, characterised as they now are by the sound of explosions as Russian forces advance on cities throughout the country they have long called home. No wonder I cannot sleep tonight – It’s hard to lie comfortably in your bed when you know that others remain anxiously awake, terrified that they and their children will be dead by morning.
Most of you who know me will be aware that I am a Christian. Perhaps some of you are asking yourselves, if the God I say I believe in exists, why doesn’t He do something to stop the violence – why doesn’t He stay Putin’s hand? It is, of course, a fair question, one to which I have a simple answer: I don’t know. There will, no doubt, be those who say that this war is a sign that we are now living in the last days and there is a sense in which I believe that they are right since the Bible speaks of the last days beginning some 2000 years or so ago. But whether we are now seeing them drawing to an end or whether they will continue on for another 2000, 20,000 or 200,000 years, I for one, do not know.
It would seem then that there is much that I do not know. And there is. Furthermore there is much that I do not understand and much that I wish was different to how it is. Even so, there are some things that I do know, there are some things about which I believe we can be certain.
1. God is still in control. Nearly 3000 years ago King Uzziah died, and the future seemed very uncertain for the people of Israel. Isaiah, however, saw beyond the immediate political uncertainty. ‘In the year that King Uzziah [he] saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. [Isaiah 6:1]. Here is a picture of a God who is utterly in command. I believe he still is today. In the year that Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, God remains on the throne.
2. What Putin means for evil, God means for good – irrespective of how unable we are to see or even imagine what that good might be [Genesis 50:20]. God has a habit of working in mysterious ways and though it may sometimes grieve him to do so, we shouldn’t perhaps be too surprised if, on occasions, He is want to operate outside our way of thinking. It is after all He who is God, not us. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth so are [His] ways higher than [our] ways and [his] thoughts than [our] thoughts’ [Isaiah 55:9]. When Jesus was crucified most who looked on saw nothing but defeat. How, they thought, can a dead Messiah save anyone? And yet there was one, the second thief who hung on a neighbouring cross, who saw that the bleeding, dying man next to him remained a King, and what’s more, one who, far from defeated was, even through his death, securing a victory that would last for all time. Similarly then, God can, and will, bring something genuinely good out of what is currently, self evidently, so dreadfully bad.
3. ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’ [James 4:6]. Make no mistake God is against all that Putin is currently trying to achieve even if he is currently allowing him to continue his violent assault on the Ukraine people. Further more, ‘The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble’ [Psalm 9:9], ‘The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed’ [Psalm 103:6]. Even if it takes longer than we would like, we can be sure that ultimately Putin will be defeated, righteousness will prevail and love will triumph over all that is evil.
4. God is with those who suffer. Even though there will be those who, even today, walk through the valley of the shadow of death, they need fear no evil, for God is with them, his rod and his staff will comfort them [Psalm 23:4]. God has promised to never leave us of forsake us and not even death can separate us from the love of God. [Romans 8:38-39].
Now don’t make a mistake. I am not offering here a platitudinous ‘Smile, Jesus loves you‘ to the people of Ukraine and suggesting that those facing such terrifying days should simply cheer up and not worry. On the contrary, Though it is most certainly true that Jesus does indeed love those caught up in the conflict, I fear that their suffering will be huge, their sorrow intense, and their anguish all too real. Even so I believe that there is yet hope, and a certain hope at that, because there is a God of love who cares for those who are currently being so dreadfully afflicted.
And neither am I suggesting that we in the West should simply ‘Let go and let God’. A high regard for God’s sovereignty does not mean we should stand back and look on from a distance, comforting ourselves by imagining we have no role to play ourselves. Just as my believing that God has set the day of my death does not mean that I no longer need to look both ways when I cross the road, so too my belief that God is in control of the situation in Ukraine does not mean that I should not act to help where I can. And help we all most certainly can. We can both petition and support world leaders as they seek to undertake the near impossible job of trying to decide what best can be done to help those being attacked. Many of us will be able to offer financial support for the huge humanitarian aid effort that will no doubt be made to help those in need and some of us may even be in a position to offer physical help to those refugees who will perhaps end up on our doorsteps. And all of us can pray, really pray – to the God who is really there and who really does care.
I am of course very well aware that it is easy to write this from a distance, that it is easier sometimes to believe things theoretically than it is to do so in practice. But I hope and pray that I will both believe and count on all this being true when my time comes to die, be that comfortably in my bed at a ripe old age, or as a violent consequence of an escalation of the war that we are now seeing in its infancy in Ukraine.
For tonight though my heart breaks for the people of Ukraine, the news reports coming out of that great nation move me to tears. And so until an opportunity affords itself for me to help in perhaps more tangible ways, my prayers are for the men, women and children whose future appears so uncertain tonight.
Please do join me.
Here is a link to a hymn I have been listening to of late. It is a comfort to me that its words remain as true today as they ever have been, both for the people of Ukraine and for me. Perhaps you might like to sing it along to it too.
To read “Suffering- A Personal View”, click here.
To read “Why do bad things happen to good people – a tentative suggestion”, click here
To read “Luther and the global pandemic – on becoming a theologian of the cross”, click here
To read ‘Covid -19. Does it suggest we really did have the experience but miss the meaning?’, click here. This is a slightly adapted version of “T.S. Eliot, Jesus and the Paradox of the Christian Life’.
To read, ‘But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope’, click here
To read “Hope comes from believing the promises of God”, click here
To read “Waiting patiently for the Lord”, click here
To read “Good Friday – 2021”, click here
To read “Easter Sunday – 2021”, click here
To read “True Love?”, click here