We’ve been tackling this issue of truth for a long time. Seeds of denial, distortion, deception, and pure fabrication have been germinating for years. Nurtured in the small-box-brains of so-called leaders fertilizing their bonsai outlooks with self interest, surrounded by ‘yes-people’ who brazenly irrigate corrupted seeds for ever more self-aggrandizement. Planting lies and claiming good fruit will be harvested. World-views are stunted and insular, historical perspectives rewritten to suit their playbooks. Trump hardly helped the world when he was president, emboldening the likes of Putin to continue his increasing thirst for influence, recognition, and Tsar-like adulation.
To write of the atrocities underway in Ukraine is to weep, wading through the blood and tears of those whose lives are already lost – but not wasted. Truth will always eventually surface manifest as courage, grace, defiance, and invariably blood on the streets. But the blood of martyrs is potent and it will prove to be so in Ukraine.
Like many of us around the world I am so frustrated and angry with what is unfolding. Who the hell does Putin think he is? What gives him the right to decide who will be independent and how the world should be? I’ve read a significant portion of Steven Lee Myer’s The New Tsar – the Rise and Fall of Vladimir Putin. The seeds of Putin’s cruel brutality were identified early on, even the KGB recognized that he was a man who took risks without considering consequences. He came from a poor background and connived his way into places of power by slithering under the radar – a snake in the grass. He fooled presidents while constructing his devious self-serving agenda to dominate and exploit. His version of history is corrupt and distorted. I was recently listening to a podcast describing Ukraine as an independent country that was never Russian in any shape or form. There were established cities in Ukraine a thousand years ago when Moscow was a village.
Truth is quietly shuffled to one side in a thousand pinpricks of silence, deaf ears, or lazy acceptance of the status quo. Lies are opportunistic and resilient like dandelions. Roots burrow deep and suddenly a story is rewritten while the original truth is lost in a culture of relativity and shoulder shrugs, who cares? I’ve spent the last fifty years attempting to live, speak, and teach about the reality of God, the person of Jesus, and his claim to be the way, the truth, and the life. In the West such conversations or declarations are challenged at every level. I have never encountered a compelling thoughtful argument seriously disproving the existence of God, or brushing aside the historical claims and existence of the person Jesus. There are plenty of emotional knee-jerks, ridicule, and voices raised in protest. Many put their hands up; the mere topic causes their blood to boil. The rotten fruit of bad past experience, the brick wall of mindless fundamentalism, or genuine bewilderment as to how a God of love can allow what is happening in Ukraine. I respect much of that puzzlement and even anger. But bad examples do not invalidate deep truth.
We are all shaped by our upbringing, our life experiences, our friendships, and people who have significantly influenced us along the way. That’s how relative truth is formed as the lens through which we see and interpret the world. If we are surrounded by like-minded people and refuse to allow contentious or different voices in our conversations, we will never learn how to filter, discern, or even grapple with the deeper truths. Truths that explore the meaning of humanity, the purpose of life, the why (spiritual belief) behind the what (scientific explanations). We will emotionally react to anything that threatens, even defending a lie – which we claim is truth because we’ve always seen things that way. Shouting loudly is a poor substitute for facts.
But life in the living has a way of rocking our boats. You believe such and such… how’s that working for you right now? It is why death and suffering is so often a gut reality check when we come to the end of ourselves, our minds have no capacity, and we’re dangling by a thread in mid-air. It’s not that at such times people need a crutch called God to believe in. No, it’s more like a revelation that I’ve been propped up by other crutches my entire life and they prove to be useless now – especially when facing my own mortality. If there is no truth larger than my brain can handle then I am forced to accept relative truth as the ultimate reality. Which leads with a shrug to conclude that Putin’s view of the world is one among many, and who am I to challenge him? Tough luck if you happen to cross the path of a tyrant and have no bodyguards, survival of the fittest. There is no moral basis other than a shared sense of justice – which is always a good place to start.
Despite my deep convictions about God I still find it hard to comprehend why bullies and small men like Putin seem to manage to cause such havoc in the world. While Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, and many other good people not so much. Although perhaps their salt and light is more powerful than meets my jaundiced eye. Putin’s first wife and daughter are secluded away in Siberia, his second wife and children are living in Switzerland. He has billions in assets gleaned from his relentless rape and pillage of the Russian people. All that matters in his world is the gilt edged lives of his few at the top, teetering corruptly on the strained and broken backs of an enslaved nation. He is a weak man + wicked = dangerous.
President Biden said that America will risk a Third World War to defend NATO – but not Ukraine. I can understand why he says that and realize how difficult these matters are.
It does cause me to consider God’s love. A love that reaches every individual no matter their status. Jesus told the story of the shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep to look for the one who was lost. When he found the bedraggled creature he hoisted it upon his shoulders and carried it home rejoicing. I believe God desires that to be our response over Ukraine, and no doubt over the many sad and cruel situations around the world. Where the weak are seen, the vulnerable are defended, and the bullies are challenged boldly and firmly – no matter the personal cost.
In my counselling years I have had my fair share of encounters with bullies. They come on strong but when challenged they invariably bluster, threaten violence, begin to cry, and seldom handle exposure bravely. Men become little boys, blaming everyone except themselves. They cannot handle what they dispense to others. The God I know is not weak when it comes to bullies and lies. And there have been far too many bullies and lies meted out on the world in the name of religion – probably as many as those who have wanted to create a world without God/gods (communism, fascism, forms of socialism and so on). Truth to tell is that we cannot stand against lies and bullies without being willing to lay down our lives.
You cannot negotiate with the devil, reason with evil, or build an empire upon a false narrative. Eventually how we live takes us down, or lifts us up. Putin has lived with deception and intimidation for so long he has become suspicious and paranoid. People around him have told him what he demands to hear so that when he acts out in the real world there is surprise that it does not align with what he thought.
To understand his big mistakes we might humbly consider how alike we can be in the way we filter and dice our thinking, conversing, and concluding. The best way to counter living in a deluded bubble is to engage with diverse opinions, wrestle with competing belief systems, and again, listen deeply and carefully. Managing our responses with maturing self-awareness is key. Freedom demands us to do so. Even as the storm rages we can plant seeds for a better future; a kinder world where we all live and share ideas. A world where we may profoundly disagree but still be united in fighting for a place and space for everyone to thrive (as long as they don’t bully, threaten, and intimidate others).
My prayer is that the war in Ukraine will end sooner rather than later, and that Putin will be knocked off his pedestal. I pray for strength, courage, and grace to surround and sustain the Ukrainian people and nation. That even if Russia takes the land they will still lose the war; that eventually Ukraine will emerge stronger than ever as an independent nation. I pray that the truth that rises far above our petty relativity will ultimately prevail. And I also pray that the conflict and animosity that has arisen in recent years between conservative and liberal in the West will be dialed back to respectful engagement. If it is not then violence and warfare will be our new normal. With our cry for freedom comes responsibility… our choice, backed up by our behavior. How much do we really want truth – even when inconvenient?