It is surreal to consider how different the world has become in three weeks.
As of this morning, more than three million refugees have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on February 24. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to the US Congress later today “could be [the] most important by a foreign leader since Churchill in 1941.” The leaders of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovenia traveled to Kyiv last night to meet with Mr. Zelensky to offer a broad package of support. The White House announced that President Biden will travel to Brussels for a March 24 NATO summit on the invasion.
The Metropolitan Opera presented a benefit performance Monday night in New York City, with all ticket sales and donations going to support relief efforts in Ukraine. And a Russian television producer courageously interrupted a live TV state media broadcast on Monday to hold up a sign protesting the war. Her actions prompted others to protest; she was found guilty of organizing an illegal protest and fined.
“World War III may already have arrived”
It is obvious that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is changing the world far beyond Ukraine. The question is, how much of the world?
Veronika Melkozerova, a journalist based in Kyiv, writes in the Atlantic, “Every night I close my eyes thinking I might be next on Putin’s death-toll list. Nowadays, you never know where the Russians will drop their bombs—onto a residential building, a kindergarten classroom, a monastery, or a maternity hospital.” She understands that people of the West “are scared of World War III” but adds, “Don’t you understand that World War III may have already arrived?”
Putin clearly wants to rebuild a new Russian Empire, which could lead him to advance beyond Ukraine into NATO-allied countries and force the US into the conflict. I noted on Monday the growing concern that Russia could use “tactical nuclear weapons” to win its war with Ukraine; that same day, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters, “The prospect of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, is now back within the realm of possibility.”
China’s continued escalation of its nuclear capacities only adds to the growing danger. Adm. Charles Richard leads US Strategic Forces, which oversees the military’s nuclear arsenal. He told lawmakers last week, “Today, we face two nuclear-capable near peers who have the capability to unilaterally escalate to any level of violence, in any domain worldwide, with any instrument of national power, at any time.”
How might God redeem the fears of these days?
By now your stress level is probably higher than it was when you began reading this article. And we haven’t even considered that the world has now surpassed six million COVID-19 deaths as the US nears one million such tragedies. Vox has reported that “deaths of despair” (suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related liver disease) “amount to the equivalent of a catastrophic pandemic every single year.” And now we are dealing with an enemy that might deploy nuclear weapons with unforeseeable global consequences.
However, none of this surprises God. He is not reading these words with the same anxiety you and I might be feeling.
Since I am convinced that the Lord redeems all he allows, I asked myself today how he might redeem the fears of these perilous days. Instantly a simple thought occurred to me: by showing us how deeply we need what only our Father can give.
It is human nature to depend on human nature. From the first sin in human history to the last sin you and I committed, the common denominator has been the same: we want to be our own god (Genesis 3:5), to be king of our own kingdom. To show us our need for his redemptive grace, God then responds by allowing us the consequences of our misused freedom (cf. Romans 1:24–32). Inevitably, such self-exaltation comes at the expense of others. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is the latest in a line of murderous crimes extending to the dawn of human history (cf. Genesis 4:1–16).
The defining question of our lives
Denison Ministries Creative Director Josh Miller has a fascinating new article on our website titled “‘Blessed are the self-sufficient’: How the anti-Beatitudes explain our cultural anxieties.” After exposing the fallacy of living by our culture’s self-sufficient values, he asks, “What kingdom defines your life?”
This is the defining question of our lives. You and I can seek to advance our own kingdoms, or we can “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” in the assurance that “all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
When we turn our world and our fears over to the true king of the universe, what does he give us in return? Jesus assured us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27, my emphasis).
When we name our fears and trust them specifically and unconditionally to Jesus, we experience more than his help and hope—we experience him. We experience his peace, his joy (Hebrews 12:2), his abundant life (John 10:10). We can say with Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). We can experience fully “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
Henri Nouwen observed:
“We tend to emphasize the distance between Jesus and ourselves. We see Jesus as the all-knowing and all-powerful Son of God who is unreachable for us sinful, broken human beings. But thinking this way, we forget that Jesus came to give us his own life. He came to lift us up into loving community with the Father. Only when we recognize the radical purpose of Jesus’ ministry will we be able to understand the meaning of the spiritual life. Everything that belongs to Jesus is given for us to receive. All that Jesus does we may also do.”
Do you “understand the meaning of the spiritual life” today?