Denison Forum – How a young Christian killed in Ukraine “still speaks” to our future

Anatoly was a twenty-six-year-old member of Irpin Bible Church, northwest of Kyiv, Ukraine. Note that he “was.”

An IT professional in a local company, he also served in his church’s media ministry. When the Russian invasion began on February 24, Anatoly evacuated his wife and other family members to safety. Then he courageously returned last Friday to join his church’s skeleton crew.

As a young mother and her two children fled Russian shelling, Anatoly volunteered to carry her suitcase across Irpin’s collapsed bridge. All four died when a Russian bombshell landed in the middle of their would-be humanitarian corridor.

As with Abel of old, “through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4). 

What is he saying to us?

Boy dropped from burning apartment building

Anatoly is just one of the hundreds if not thousands of Ukrainians killed so far in Vladimir Putin’s illegal and immoral invasion of their country. Why, then, did I want to tell his story this morning? Why did you choose to read it?

Here’s some good news: A three-year-old boy was dropped from the window of a burning apartment building in New Jersey Monday morning and caught by first responders. And some tragic news: a New Jersey man was swept out to sea while swimming off a beach in Hawaii last Saturday. And some more tragic news: an eleven-year-old girl died after falling under a moving school bus in Colorado last Thursday.

How did these stories make you feel?

I told each of them to make the same point: there is something in us that rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who weep (Romans 12:15). This is part of our identity as beings made in the image of a God (Genesis 1:27) who loves each of us as if there were only one of us (St. Augustine). Each person is therefore someone of infinite worth to our Creator, not a means to the ends of a nation or its rulers.

This fact is vital to understanding the larger significance of the war in Ukraine for America’s future and American Christians today.

The future of our cultural freedom

US intelligence officials testified at a congressional hearing Tuesday that Putin is likely to escalate the conflict in Ukraine with no concern for civilian casualties, viewing his invasion as a “war he cannot afford to lose.”

Yesterday, we began discussing the fact that Russia’s invasion represents a “new Cold War” pitting the autocratic regimes of Russia and China against the individual freedom ethic espoused by Democratic nations of the West. Putin’s invasion is just one example of the degree to which he sees democracy as impeding his tsarist vision for Russia.

In response, I noted that America’s founders clearly linked freedom with morality and morality with religion.

They were right. 

As the Bible notes, we are all “pinched off from a piece of clay” (Job 33:6). As a result, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). It is therefore crucial that Christians embody and share with others the good news of God’s transforming grace (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Said bluntly, the future of our cultural freedom depends on the degree to which we embrace our spiritual freedom in Christ (cf. Galatians 5:1John 8:31–32). In a day when American society is more opposed to Christian truth and morality than ever before, this fact is more crucial than ever before.

What percent of Americans elected our president?

The more secular our democracy becomes, the weaker our democracy becomes.

Princeton University scholar Allen C. Guelzo, in reviewing political scientist Jan-Werner Müller’s book Democracy Rules, cites Müller’s argument that “democracy has a deep philosophical affinity with relativism.” This is because our democracy rests on the two pillars of freedom (of speech, assembly, and association) and equality (of all citizens as equal political participants).

As a result, we make decisions based on popular voting, not objective truths, and trust that a free media will hold our leaders and institutions accountable.

But what happens when fewer and fewer of us participate in our democracy? (Kevin D. Williamson notes that Joe Biden was elected president by only 24.6 percent of all Americans.) 

What happens when the Americans who do vote are increasingly uninformed about the issues we face? And what happens when the people and the media they trust increasingly insist on tolerance over truth and seek personal and partisan advancement over the common good?

In The Republic, Plato warned that democracy is inherently flawed: freedom is supreme, but laws are not obeyed and chaos results. Leaders pander to the wants of the people whose support they require. A few people take advantage and accumulate great wealth. To restore order and put down the rich, the people then vote a tyrant into power and democracy ends.

Is this our future?

A difference that will echo in eternity

The last world war united Americans in defense of freedom and democracy with a sacrificial ethic and resolve of character that enabled us to defeat the greatest enemies our nation had ever faced. I am praying that the “new Cold War” will unite us once again in the same cause and evoke from us the same character.

And I am praying that America’s Christians will lead the way by surrendering daily to Christ as our King (Matthew 6:33Ephesians 5:18) and then advancing his kingdom through our gracious witness, godly influence, and sacrificial faith (Ephesians 4:15).

In this day of global social media and connectivity, a single courageous Christian like Anatoly can make global headlines and a global impact. As with Isaiah of old, a single committed believer can use his or her influence to make a difference that will echo in eternity.

In answering his Lord’s call, the prophet cried, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). 

What will you say to your Lord today?

NOTE: One very practical way we can be the presence of Christ to those suffering in this conflict is to care for refugees as Jesus cares for us. For more, please see our website article, “As 2 million Ukrainian refugees flee, how will you welcome the refugee next door?

Denison Forum

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