Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed a joint session of the US House and Senate yesterday. In today’s Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove calls his speech “an extraordinarily powerful historic moment” and says that he and the Ukrainians are “defining courage for our time.”
Mr. Zelensky’s remarks were so significant that I will devote this Daily Article to them.
Among his statements were these very perceptive observations: “Russia has attacked not just us, not just our land, not just our cities. It went on a brutal offensive against our values, basic human values. It threw tanks and planes against our freedom, against our right to live freely in our own country, choosing our own future, against our desire for happiness, against our national dreams, just like the same dreams you have, you Americans.”
After delivering most of his speech in Ukrainian through a translator, Mr. Zelensky closed by speaking in English. He told the members of Congress, “Peace in your country doesn’t depend anymore only on you and your people. It depends on those next to you and those who are strong. Strong doesn’t mean big. Strong is brave and ready to fight for the life of his citizens and citizens of the world. For human rights, for freedom, for the right to live decently, and to die when your time comes, and not when it’s wanted by someone else, by your neighbor.”
As Mr. Zelensky delivered these statements in English, Senator Angus King said later, “There was a collective holding of the breath.”
“I wish you to be the leader of the world”
President Zelensky closed his historic address with statements that deserve to be read in their entirety: “Today, the Ukrainian people are defending not only Ukraine, we are fighting for the values of Europe and the world, sacrificing our lives in the name of the future. That’s why today the American people are helping not just Ukraine, but Europe and the world to give the planet the life to keep justice in history.
“Now, I am almost forty-five years old; today, my age stopped when the hearts of more than one hundred children stopped beating. I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths. And this is my main issue as the leader of my people, great Ukrainians.
“And as the leader of my nation, I am addressing the President Biden, you are the leader of the nation, of your great nation. I wish you to be the leader of the world; being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.
“Thank you. Glory to Ukraine. Thank you for your support. Thank you.”
Peace “depends on those next to you”
In its simplest form, human life can be reduced to two options: we can live for ourselves, or we can live for each other. We can be Cain slaying Abel, or we can be Joseph forgiving his brothers. We can be Peter denying Jesus, or we can be Peter preaching to the Pentecost crowds.
We can make the war in Ukraine the Ukrainians’ problem, or we can make it our problem. We can say with Volodymyr Zelensky that our hearts stop when the hearts of children stop beating. We can fight “for human rights, for freedom, for the right to live decently, and to die when your time comes.”
Said differently, we can embrace the self-evident truths “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Paradoxically, the best way to assure these personal freedoms is to ensure the world’s freedom. Mr. Zelensky was right: “Peace in your country doesn’t depend anymore only on you and your people. It depends on those next to you.”
As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so perceptively noted in Letter from Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“Let justice roll down like waters”
When we seek “justice everywhere,” we stand on the right side of history. In accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, Dr. King stated, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
The word of God agrees. Scripture assures us that “God will judge the righteous and the wicked” (Ecclesiastes 3:17). He calls us to join him: “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17). We are to “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
As a biblical philosopher, my purpose today is not to take a personal position regarding political or military responses to the war in Ukraine. Rather, it is to make the biblical case that what is happening in Ukraine matters as much to God and should therefore matter as much to us as if it were happening in America.
I agree with Volodymyr Zelensky that his people are “fighting for the values of Europe and the world.” They are “sacrificing [their] lives in the name of the future,” our future. It is incumbent upon us to join them.
“Our most basic common link”
Today is St. Patrick’s Day. In addition to parades and parties, we should remember his story: kidnapped from his native England by Irish invaders, he was enslaved for several years before escaping and returning home. However, years later, God called him to return to Ireland as a missionary. He led more than one hundred thousand people to faith in Christ and became the patron saint of Ireland. His death on March 17, 461, is remembered each year on this day.
But there’s more to his story: Irish Christians who were spiritual descendants of St. Patrick’s ministry sailed to Britain in the following century, where they evangelized the heathen who had overrun the country. According to Thomas Cahill’s How the Irish Saved Civilization, they “single-handedly refounded European civilization throughout the continent.”
As a result, every American owes a debt to St. Patrick’s courageous ministry in Ireland and his spiritual descendants who preserved the benefits of Western civilization we enjoy today. This fact is just one more reminder that President John F. Kennedy was right: “Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet.”
What happens to any of us should therefore matter to all of us.
God assures us, “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!” (Psalm 106:3).
As we respond to President Zelensky’s historic speech, will America be “blessed”?