Who am I to speak on any topic….? But we have to keep talking, thinking, listening… about conflict, values, God, atheism, religion, truth, justice, good, and evil – in our day.
It’s easy in times of war and turmoil to be overwhelmed with fear, dread, and paralysis. There are many questions, much confusion, and plenty of rumors to contend with. It’s at times like this that faith comes to the fore; religion abounds in all the earth. Meaning – everyone believes something, has a worldview, conducts their lives according to values rooted somewhere. Everyone lives by faith.
Religion is the much maligned word that provides the dogma around that faith – whether it is rooted in God or founded on money, beauty, education, expertise, human ingenuity, or whatever – even atheism. Everyone has a faith and everyone is religious. We don’t get to wash our hands and step aside saying “I’m not like them”. What is tested in times of hardship is the quality and depth of our faith and religion. Where we place our faith and religion will either prove to be true, or….. not so much.
Ukraine is a country deeply rooted in the Christian faith. Bombs rain down on cities and the people express their hope in God as their strength. But they are not sitting back timid and resigned. Their hope is informed, rooted, defiant, and courageous – expressed in action, resistance, and even death. I’m in awe.
Personally, I’ve never liked the word religion. I have always maintained that I’m not at all religious. Because religion usually describes rules, rituals, dogma and prejudice – something impersonal. Whereas faith, for me, is about relationship with a God who is personal and kind, good, and always faithful. That’s why when someone says they have no time for God or are not religious I want to ask: What/who is the God you don’t believe in? What is the religion you despise? Invariably when they answer I will agree – I would not believe in that kind of God or religion either. Where did you get your information? Which is where we return to the challenge of listening more deeply to one another, giving each other room to question, reflect, discover, change minds, reconsider, have a new insight. Isn’t that precisely the democracy we are fighting for around the world?
I heard a phrase recently: truth welcomes questioning, lies hate to be challenged. I believe that with all my heart. I have always encouraged people to think and reflect: to question God, Christianity, atheism, agnosticism, and everything in-between. Truth is not defensive or afraid to be poked, explored, and tested. Whereas the darker the lies, the more aggression rises, name-calling abounds, and smoke fills the air. The intolerance to diverse opinions emerging over the past few years in North America and Europe (probably around the world) is a flashing light of warning.
The whole of Europe has a history deeply impacted by faith, religion, and science. It has been turbulent at times – with causes won and lost in the name of God, religion, science, or atheism. From Roman brutality to Spanish Inquisitions, from revolutions to Hitler, and too many more from every tribe to mention. Shake it all down and the root issues cluster around freedom manifested in democracy among people battling against dictatorial power held in the grip of a few. We’ve heard it said so many times, freedom and peace have to be fought for and protected. The peace that we share and enjoy today has been fought for at great cost of life by those who lived before us.
The history of the Christian Church began in centuries of blood, torture, persecution, and rampant injustice. Freedom was the core message of Jesus (brutally crucified) rooted in truth and love for every human being. Early disciples laid down their lives rather than agree that Caesar was equal to God and should be hailed as Lord! Christian faith in action informed culture, encouraged art and music, fought to abolish slavery, declared human equality, wrestled to emancipate women from the shackles of male domination (even though some silence women in church – and unfortunately still do). But, Christianity removed from relationship with Jesus, morphs into religion, degenerates into something ugly, trades in politics and power. Good is manifest in actions that bless people, evil is manifest in action that destroys.
I have to affirm that one doesn’t have to believe in God to do good and make a positive contribution. I would mischievously contend that even so, all good (whether God is acknowledged or not) has roots in him. But that may be another can of worms for a less stressful time.
Not a moment goes by these days when we are not thinking about Ukraine, wrestling with the barbaric slaughter and the heroic resistance.
“The crisis he (Putin) created presented us with the real-life dangers of unrestrained autocracy, and a very tangible demonstration of the importance of democracy, freedom and self-determination. Rights that are so often seen as lofty, ethereal concepts suddenly became palpable when Putin tried to steal them from the Ukrainian people,” Frida Ghitas (columnist).
This tragedy in Ukraine is indeed a conflict, once again, between good and evil. History lessons are never learned when they are a generation or two removed from the present and not defended or fought for. I heard today of reports of heroic faith coming out of Ukraine where many people are determined to stay and stand for their country and their values. “We can feel your prayers, we sleep, and we know the hand of God upon us.”
Defiant hope has always been the lifeblood of Christianity. It is not rational – because its power comes from the Spirit that transcends our intellectual reasoning. Which does not equate to foolishness or without thought, devoid of reason. It merely recognizes that part of what it means to be human is to acknowledge and welcome the spiritual, the intangible, and the mystery. My faith in God should cause me to be lovingly firm in the face of threats from the likes of Putin. I, like many, wonder whether the fear of nuclear war is the cover under which Putin hides and operates. I don’t believe he can be negotiated with. I believe he is overcome with evil and that Ukraine should be provided with air cover and the troops to defend its borders.
Europe and Western allies talk about not wanting to accelerate conflict throughout Europe. We make resolutions and give standing ovations to the President of Ukraine. But we watch death and destruction continue. It’s like observing a bully repetitively rape vulnerable women and refusing to step in to immediately save the victims. The rationale is ‘realpolitik’. Pragmatic politics that state that in this instance, sacrificing Ukraine and perhaps 500,000 lives is better than risking nuclear war and annihilating countless millions throughout Europe. What if….?
It’s not easy. In the end I genuinely don’t know what is best. I have to trust and pray that there are those in leadership with expertise and knowledge who will guide us wisely. I am so limited in my understanding, my perceptions, and my ability to help or influence. So I pray – and defiantly hope with my Ukrainian brothers and sisters that God will pour out his goodness, conquer that which is evil, and eventually bring resurrection out of what looks like hellish death and destruction devoid of purpose. And as we pray, we send supplies, offer our homes (as they are magnificently doing in Poland), and practically fight in whatever way possible, with persistent and relentless defiant hope, until this nightmare ends. However long it takes.