Ukraine – God – Us

This is a day of heartbreak and hope intertwined. The heartbreak of so many lives lost, disfigured, traumatized, and scarred forever by the Russian brutality in Ukraine. Hope born from the courage of ordinary men and women across that ravaged country who have defiantly resisted – to the point of death. Hope arising form a worldwide coalition supporting and supplying the means to resist and withstand; eventually to overcome (we believe and declare).

It’s hard to comprehend. The mindset of Putin and his cronies’ brutality and vindictive agenda. Even to imagine the hardships endured by Ukrainians of all ages caught in the crossfire for not merely a year, but ever since Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.

In recent interviews President Zelensky has underscored repeatedly how alike and similar Ukrainians are to those who live in Europe and North America. “We share the same values, our children love to play, we desire democracy and freedom….” And that is surely true. What if the Russians were to declare the same? Can we dare consider the thought? They bleed when cut, they love, they have families, the children laugh and play like ours….. What has gone wrong? Why are we all basically so similar and yet drift into such stark and cruel differences?

Perhaps the answer is rooted in context, exposure to worldviews, the nature of the very ground from which we grow and experience the world. Nothing just happens. The endless repetition of humanity at war with itself down the ages.

Every mindset springs from a seed planted, innocently – or deliberately watered and fed. Every thought buds into a belief that blossoms into an action – inevitably ripening into the fruit of a behavior. We Christians can spring to our feet declaring faith in God as the solution. I think it is. But the pond is very murky and polluted where those thoughts are baptized. In the name of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; words on the lips of those who supported Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and serve in at least one branch of the Russian Orthodox Church. Labels advocating faith allegiances are meaningless in, and of, themselves.

It is much easier to demonize ‘the other’ in order to justify and feel good about ‘me’. Would it be that life was so simple, black and white, good and evil. The inconvenient truth is perhaps more humbling, even disturbing. That we carry within us the potential to manifest a Zelensky or a Putin at any time – depending on what seeds are cultivated.

The point may be easily illustrated by introducing God into the equation of humanity and behavior, values, mindsets, and outcomes. Where is God in this mess? One response is that God is wherever there is light in the darkness. Wherever a soldier protects and defends. Wherever a surgeon cares for a wounded victim, wherever a nurse washes a wound, wherever a woman holds a child, wherever a loaf of bread is distributed, wherever any act of kindness, support, or generosity is evident. God is there. The undergirding conviction being that light will always prevail over darkness, truth will eventually overcome deception, love will triumph – one day.

But God himself? The truth is in the testing? How do we even read or digest these lines I scribble with an awkward wondering of how they will be read and received? I’ve spent most of my life on this battlefield between faith and unbelief, contempt or indifference to God wrestling with passionate faith and conviction. There are Putins and Zelenskys all over the world in this eternal tension and common stalemate. Here’s where we find level ground with what is unfolding between Russia and Ukraine. The point being not to be arrogant or push one another’s faces into the mud. Merely to humbly consider how similar we all are. How easily we could be ‘the despised other’ had circumstances been different. And even to consider how can attitudes change? It is not easy.

Most of us merely want to maintain whatever our version of the status quo is. Leave me in peace to be able to do whatever I want without interference or fear. Some look to legislation and government, some find conspiracies’ under every institutional rock, some demand accountability for all except when it comes knocking on their door. Even our versions of democracy, our shared values, our perceptions of what freedom means, tend to divide us more than unify. The vast majority of the West have jettisoned God as irrelevant, something relegated to the dark ages. The popular vote is to hoist the flag of enlightenment and self fulfilment firmly embedded in the quicksand of relativity and personal preference. Even the church has often been complicit in its desperation to be accepted, insipidly relevant, and at least well regarded by a few.

Is this depressing and negative? Depends, I guess. Is a diagnosis of cancer depressing or negative? In one way, obviously. But without the diagnosis there is no hope of a cure. Denial leads to a far quicker death. Cancer begins with one cell in the body refusing to cooperate. One cell at a time it grows, infects, and builds momentum. Unless it is identified and attacked with chemotherapy and the like, there is no stopping it. The human condition beyond the physical dimension is identical. There is no such thing as neutrality, opting out, or choosing nothing as an option leading to life. Nothing just happens, anywhere, with anyone.

When we are numb, or misguided, deluded, or hopping down a bad rabbit hole, revelation of our misguided thoughts and actions is seldom comfortable or convenient. Chemotherapy is never fun. A man was stranded in the middle of nowhere in a heavy snowstorm. He eventually tried to walk to hopefully find safety, but was lost. Eventually the storm passed and the sun came out. His feet were frostbitten and he sat in the sun to thaw them out. The resulting pain was so excruciating that he plunged them back in the snow to refreeze them and halt the pain. The pain was an indication of healing as blood slowly began to flow again. Without the pain there would be no hope of life for those limbs. Choosing to keep them frozen meant that when the man was found his feet had to be amputated.

When Saul was confronted by God on the Damascus Road and struck blind he endured three days of dark ‘hell’ as he was forced to come to terms with his actions and cruel persecution of the innocent. Those three days led to his rebirth and gradual transformation from a Putin to a Zelensky (let’s not push this metaphor too far). The foundation of Christian faith in Ukraine (a very different expression than mine) is significant in the sustaining of their faith and hope – God seems very relevant and present in the towns and trenches.

The only way I know how to keep things real is to keep pressing metaphors and attempting to find a pathway between me and them, whomever they may be. There but for the grace of God inevitably surfaces. It doesn’t make things right but it does cause me to reflect. If evil forms from one cell or a seed, then so does good, faith, and hope. As is true so often with cliché’s, if I want to see real change than let that change begin with me. What thoughts, attitudes, even convictions do I have that may be destructive or unhelpful? As I reflect on ‘me and my thoughts’ how quickly do I resist the pain of possible revelation and choose to shove the troublesome musings back into the frozen snowbank of my status quo or unfounded thought patterns? Denial absolves me of accountable responsibility and the nurture of justice – every time, world without end, amen.

From the perspective of my very imperfect life the only boast I can utter with confidence is that God is kind, forgiving, gracious, and relentless in his love. From my extremely small and insignificant life experience my hope for Ukraine and all of us rests in that simple revelation, tattered edges and all. The tiny hem of God’s garment that I have been fortunate to touch is enough for me to believe, beyond logic or the ability to explain. From that place I can join with the Psalmist:

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous. Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely, who conduct their affairs with justice. (Psalm 112:4-5)

And with the transformed Paul in his words of encouragement to the Corinthians (perhaps now to Ukraine and the rest of us):

“Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

John Cox

Christian Author

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