“Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!” Psalm 52:7
I’ve heard two different disturbing responses to Russia’s war on Ukraine one from right-wing “news” outlets and another from some Christians. In this post I’ll address the latter.
One evangelical church leader called for prayer for peace between the nations. Can’t argue with that. As far as it goes. But the way he worded it sounded a lot like, “There are good people on both sides, so pray that they’ll all just get along. We’re peacemaker’s after all.”
Of course, we must pray for both countries and their citizens in this conflict. And of course, there are good Ukrainians and good Russians. So let’s do pray for the innocent citizens on both sides for protection and salvation. But let’s be clear, this war was clearly instigated by Russian President Putin and unprovoked by Ukraine’s leadership (or citizenry for that matter).
Scripture clearly teaches that God is always on the side of the oppressed and against the oppressor, for the weaker and more vulnerable and against the powerful taking advantage of the weak. Ukraine didn’t start this war. Russia is the aggressor. So, my prayers, though they have to include the care and safety of both peoples, also have to intercede for God to stop Russia from murdering their neighbors.
He went on to say, “Let’s stay focused on the main thing: The Gospel.” Amen to that! I agree that it’s the God of the Good News we serve. But remember that, in his first public sermon Jesus, quoted Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free...”
I’m aware that there’s a flimsy version of this to spiritualize all those conditions and turn blindness and oppression into spiritual darkness exclusively. The solution then would be to simply get people saved so they’re not poor or prisoners or oppressed anymore. Surely, there are spiritual implications included in the good news, but to overlook the actual conditions of poverty and oppression as part of what the Gospel addresses is a very thin interpretation of the mission of Jesus.
What Jesus did and preached is the Gospel which obviously involves leading people to Christ and get them reading their bibles. But this doesn’t exhaust what he’s after in this world of poverty, violence, and pain. Micah asks and answers his own question: “What does the Lord require of you? To do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8).
Of course, there are poor and oppressed in Russia today, but if we’re responding to the immediate need of the hour, that would be the need of the Ukrainians with bombs exploding in their cities and killing their children for no other reason than for Putin to establish his version of a good legacy by conquering more and more territory.
Furthermore, the leader said: “We ask that you stand with us in prayer that God will grant us the blessings of peace, prosperity, and a great harvest of souls in the Gospel in Russia and Ukraine.” I can get behind that, but can’t help but remember that peacemaking is not just about getting us all to get along, which is the message I often hear in the Church’s response to injustice and inhumanity to man.
Don’t misunderstand me. I believe the greatest need of humans is to come to Christ and be transformed by his grace. But when humanitarian crises occur such as this one, and the only prayers I hear are: “Help Russians and Ukrainians get along and bring revival to both nations!” I wonder if that’s how Christian Americans prayed after Pearl Harbor. “Lord, help us get along with Japan and bring revival to both our countries!” Did they then go on to sing their happy songs, preach their prosperity sermons, and go home feeling better about themselves unconcerned about the thousands of dead? I think not.
I know I sound harsh, but what some are saying sounds a lot like, “Let’s not offend anybody who might be pro-Russian.” As someone famously said after the callous murder of an innocent young woman in Charlottesville, “There are good people on both sides of this.”
The International Justice Mission defines injustice as “what happens when someone uses their power to take from someone else the good things God intended them to have: their life, their liberty, their dignity, or the fruit of their love or their labor.” I think it’s time to quit riding the fence about injustice and call it out. The prophets did. Jesus did. So, what are we waiting for?
By way of contrast, I read of one pastor in Ukraine who is asking Americans to pray that “Russia would tire of their tyrant’s rantings at home and abroad and that they would remove him from office.” Amen! Putin is an unhinged tyrant. Another Ukrainian leader requested prayer for the truth to be told in contrast to the ridiculous lies spread in some of the Western media. Igor Bandura, vice president of the Baptist Union prayed, “First, to stop the aggressor and then for peace of mind, to respond with Christian character and not from human hate.” I can get behind that.
“We did not invite the war,” wrote one seminary professor. “The Kremlin and Vladimir Putin brought it to Ukraine. … There needs be a moral evaluation of acts of aggression like this, which have biblical definition and biblical evaluation.” Another leader asked the West to pray about Russian Christians that they would raise their prayers and voice toward Russian government to stop the aggression; [that they] would not keep silent and for the governments of the US and European Union to do the same.
Lastly, I urge you to read the rest of King David’s response in Psalm 52 to the ruthless murder of 85 innocent priests on his watch. It happens that it is the passage I preached on the Sunday after 9/11 entitled: “How David Dealt With A Demented Demon-Driven Dictator.”
The main difference between the circumstances then (9/11) and now aren’t that great. Agreed?
So, let’s pray.