We've all been hit by the distress of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It's at times like this that many people get perspective on their own problems and trials. Managing a medical issue, dealing with some workplace bullying, sorting through our daily trials and affairs is nothing compared to having a tank shell your home or missiles destroy your maternity hospital, killing and trapping young mothers and infants.
Where do we turn to in times like this?
As we said during last year's Feast of Tabernacles, God calls us to be active citizens of the Kingdom of God. The Feast points to the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. And the way of the Kingdom of Heaven is in stark contrast to the way of the world.
Jesus, the King of the Kingdom, said
"But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."
- Matthew 5:39
Jesus clearly did resist evil - but not through vengeance and violence. He resisted evil through the Word of God and through forgiveness and through his steadfast commitment to yield his life an atonement for sin - not replacing hate with further hate and vengeance. That way only leads to the vicious cycle of hate and death, grievances centuries old held by generation after generation. Putin's own justifications for his invasion of Ukraine rely on these very same centuries-old grievances held closely to his heart and mind, expressed through the weapons of war.
I'm not suggesting that self-defence is wrong. If it is in your power to prevent evil and abuse, then there are times when it would be wrong NOT to defend, not to protect. But Jesus' instruction is to never take a spirit of vengeance in hand, rather in its stead to pray for, not against, your enemies and those who despitefully use and persecute you. He says that we are to forgive seventy times seven, even when tanks come rolling in.
"Peter, what you're saying is impossible!"
Yes, it is impossible.
That's exactly what the disciples said to Jesus. His response?
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
- Matthew 19:26
And, clearly, given the very real potential for a full-scale invasion by a nuclear power with functional allies throughout the "East" to become a worldwide conflict, there is no way that we armchair strategists and tacticians could ever avert another global disaster, let alone prevent the millions of lives being impacted or stop the thousands of senseless, immoral injuries and deaths being inflicted every day in Ukraine, as is also the case elsewhere around the world while all kinds of smaller conflicts continue to rage.
There is no path out that we can devise. It must be in God that we put our faith.
"You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come."
- Matthew 24:6
This is personal for me. As those who heard me speak in one of my messages during the 2021 Feast will recall, I have relatives in Ukraine. I grew up considering Ukraine a second homeland. My mother's cousin is in close contact with our family and we have many others in Ukraine that are known to our family. During the Feast I shared some of my mother's cousin's story - a political dissident, imprisoned in the Gulag by the Communists. (I thank those who have contacted me in support and have offered their prayers.) It was in prison that he had turned to Christ fully and realised that his citizenship is in Heaven, not on earth. He still believes that way. Yet the invasion has not left him resigned and apathetic, but appalled. And in imminent danger, as are all those he loves and knows there.
My cousin's own daughter from Sydney, Australian-born and raised, who is a similar age to my daughters, was in Ukraine and had to flee to Poland for her life as Putin's forces invaded. She happened to be interviewed on international television as she escaped into Poland.
My grandmother's tales of escaping Ukraine during World War II, the tales my Aunty told, the feelings my mother recalls, all those tales I heard from other survivors who had fled the equal horrors of Stalin and Hitler; The "oldies" we called those people. Well, everything old is new again in the sickening cycle that is the world's way.
My brother has visited Ukraine in the past and is in touch with people there now. I have talked with recently immigrated Ukrainians in Perth whose relatives in Ukraine are now in the fight or are escaping - including a conversation I had with one whose brother and his brother's son are now active combatants defending their homeland.
So when I write about Ukraine, it is not from an academic or remote interest. Our family and extended network are living and sharing the details constantly. Praying for their loved ones and for Ukraine in general.
And what of our response to the Russians? Is it to regurgitate the grievances of the centuries? Is it to seek vengeance on them, now? A wish to "drive them back to the stone age"?
Behind every story of an officeworker turned soldier, behind every image of a draped body, behind every video of a child being huddled for protection, and behind every Russian or Chechen soldier, is a human being made in the image of God.
It is interesting, is it not, that in the midst of foretelling the signs of the end of times that one of Jesus' key warnings was that "because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many will grow cold"? (Matthew 24:12)
In the book of Hebrews we read of those chased from their homes, persecuted, stoned, sawn in half, killed by the sword, despite their faith in and love of God. They were those "of whom the world was not worthy" (Heb. 11:38).
Though they were faithful, they died not having received the promise, but God had something better - something perfect - reserved for them (Heb.11:39-40). Surrounded by this cloud of witnesses, we are to lay aside the sin that now so assails and entraps us, as individuals, and continue in faith. We are to fix our eyes on Jeus the King, the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the very one who steadfastly resisted sin even in the Garden as he awaited betrayal and death, giving his own blood as he fought with tears, and then gave his sinless life as he shed that same blood on the cross. (Hebrews 12)
God has promised us a Kingdom that will never be shaken. Not by soldiers. Not by tanks. Not by nuclear weapons, nor by any other power on earth or in the heavens. Because the foundation of that kingdom is Jesus Christ, who has conquered death itself and will return with His Sword coming out of His mouth to justly and rightly divide the nations and mete out justice and forgiveness.
"He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."
- Isaiah 2:4
We celebrate God's promised Kingdom every year at the Feast. I am so grateful for that. Let us never forget. Let us not fear what the despots and crazed rulers of the world throw at the innocents. Let us pray for peace, work against evil, love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Let us stand up for truth and for righteousness. Let us continue in faith in the King who can never be moved. Let us continue to do the good works of God and follow the commands of Christ, even if they seem impossible.
And let us thank God Almighty, who will bring to pass all His good promises for now and forevermore.
(c) 2022 Peter J. McLean