Like so many millions around the world I continue to grieve over the unfolding tragedy of Ukraine, the brutal atrocities meted out by Russian military, and the frustration of feeling helpless and not being able to do more. Amidst all the raw nerve endings, the blood and smoke, God where are you? Whenever that guttural cry is uttered there are those who scoff as they did when Jesus was crucified, “Where’s your God now, let him save you.” Other shrug and understandably mutter, “Yes, I used to have hope and believe, but not after this, we’re on our own, cease your bleating before a god who is indifferent, or doesn’t exist.”
And I also hear God posing a question. “Why do you always shake your fist at me and assume this is my fault, that I am impotent, I am to blame? How do you so quickly forget your cries for freedom and self-determination? Where are you culpable and responsible? I gave you resources, minds to think, hearts to love, food to eat, imaginations to explore. You built empires and borders, bombs and machines of warfare. You chased after all manner of gods fabricated by your hands that never satisfied and soon crumbled in the wind. Don’t shake your fist at me. But nevertheless know this, I have never left you – or abandoned the hope that you would come to your senses.”
Putin is the logical manifestation of evil in human form. Evil is ugly, ruthless, cruel, and rooted in anger and deep insecurity. Evil is not abstract, it is paranoid and suspicious, seeking vengeance on others with uncompromising brutality. Evil seeks to kill and destroy unto death. Death is as far as it can go. Evil is impatient, targets the weak, offers no hope, is selfish, greedy, and unkind. It is real, as we are witnessing before our eyes in Ukraine, and in other less spotlighted regions of the world. But love is stronger, it’s light will never be dimmed, its hope cannot be snuffed out, and it endures long after evil has run its course.
Throughout the ages, amidst the savagery and misery humans shackled to evil have inflicted on one another, hope and goodness inevitably rise and ultimately triumph. The DNA of God planted within every human cannot help itself but rise in the face of evil. The horror at injustice and the anger experienced around the world have their roots in the love of a good God – acknowledged, or not. Which is why, despite the ongoing destruction in Ukraine right now, I (and they) will not lose hope. Evil has to be resisted, defied, challenged, and defeated by people who are courageous, sacrificial, and prepared to give their lives. In the West we have been lulled into believing peace can be agreed upon with compromise in a boardroom far away from the battlefield. Evil signs manifestos with ink while planning to shed blood if it doesn’t get its way. Tough love has to rise up and stand its ground.
And God is neither absent nor weak. And his ways are not our ways. His thoughts are unlike ours. He is not a crutch for the weak or a last resort for the small minded. When Jesus taught people about God’s ways he told the parable of the sower sowing his seed. Seed was scattered. Some fell on hard ground, some among weeds, some was choked by thorns, and some fell on good soil and grew strong. When I read this familiar passage in Mark 4 I was struck by how it was introduced. One word. “Listen!”
In a time of so much noise, emotion, opinion, and reaction (me included) “Listen!” flashed like a bright neon light. Later, when the disciples were alone with Jesus they asked him to explain the parable. That is active listening, engaging, asking clarification. There is a listening that tunes out and words are blah, blah, blah. Hard ground. There is listening that argues and protests without considering or hearing, well worn clichés repeated ad nauseum. Weeds rise up and choke good seed. There is listening that hears and gets emotional but then soon moves on to something else. Shallow ground that does not sustain. And there is listening that engages, questions, seeks to understand. Fertile soil.
If ever one would look for evidence to believe in God it is blatantly declared over Ukraine right now. Humanity, left to its own resources and inclinations, will be overcome by evil under the guise of power, false assertions, more lies, and freedom restricted ‘for the greater good’. In contrast, God gives freedom with choices to accept or reject. Nothing is forced, violence is never his means to an end, and no one is exploited or destroyed in order to accomplish his will. I have no faith in humanity being able to rescue itself from the dilemma of good and evil. Evolution is not making us better and we do not learn from history. We need help that is beyond ourselves which requires revelation, humility, and a cry from the heart.
As Jesus explained the parable the disciples engaged. Then at the end he repeated again, “Consider carefully what you hear.” As I read the very familiar parable and listened my attention was drawn, not to the ground, but to the sower and his seed. In my world of rationality and economics I would have limited my scattering of seed to the good ground. I would not have wasted it on hard ground, thorny areas, or shallow soil with weeds. God, the sower, is not like I am. He is generous and lavish, ever hopeful that even in the most negative of circumstances seed will germinate and perhaps even break open hard ground. Consequently the seed is scattered everywhere over everything, abundantly hopeful and generous over the least deserving and the most resistant.
God is doing that right now amidst the chaos and the destruction of Ukraine and everywhere else in the world. We have, and will hear stories of how people have experienced miracles amidst the horror. We will hear accounts from Ukrainians and Russians – because God loves everyone (I certainly believe the vast majority of Russians are good people who would be horrified if they knew). That does not for one moment imply that God endorses evil….. Wherever evil is manifest God sows seeds of love, courage, kindness, grace, goodness, faith, and every resource – wonderfully and mysteriously from heaven. His angels rescue the dead and give new life to fallen children in a safe and better place than we have been able to provide on earth. Evil will never win, ever. God is not limited or finite as we are.
At times like these we will do well to guard our hearts, minds, and actions. Disciples of Jesus need to listen, consider carefully what we hear, and scatter good seed with lavish generosity, sometimes counter-intuitively in the most undeserving of places. We need to continue to stand against evil however we can, patiently confident that love and good will prevail. Now, it feels like Saturday, a dark silent hopeless moment between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. When everything seemed so broken and lost, hope absent, leader killed, evil victorious. But God was not dead or indifferent. Neither was he defeated by the mighty Roman Empire. He was at work and a new day of resurrection was coming soon. God is faithful, his seeds will germinate and grow, and what is bombed and charred today will be restored.
Listen! Consider carefully what you hear.