Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Paris on Sunday in protest over the rising cost of living, a shortage of key supplies, and fears that their circumstances will only get worse as winter looms just over the horizon.
Those who spent their weekend marching through the streets of the French capital are hardly alone in their fear and anger.
The stress and angst that boiled over in the protests has been building for quite some time and was preceded by strikes at oil refineries that further exacerbated the problems. Almost a third of the country’s gas pumps are either fully or partly dry, and additional strikes are expected in the days to come.
Similar protest movements have begun in Germany, Italy, Belgium, and a host of other European countries as well. But while the inflation and shortages at the heart of these protests have a multitude of causes, the focus for many is the war in Ukraine.
When Russia began its invasion back in February of this year, most of the Western world was united in its opposition to Putin and his attacks. Officially, that stance has not changed. Both NATO and the European Union maintain their support for Ukraine and the measures that have been taken to fight back against Russia.
But as the cost of those measures—particularly the economic sanctions and energy shortages—have mounted, large swaths of the general public throughout Europe have started having second thoughts.
And there is perhaps no country paying closer attention to this development than China.
What if China invades Taiwan?
While one could argue that Russia stands to gain the most from any discontent among the European nations that oppose their invasion of Ukraine, circumstances have likely progressed too far for NATO or the EU to change course now. Those nations that stand against Putin’s government will continue to do so until the situation in Ukraine is resolved.
As such, the more pertinent question is whether those European nations can afford to take a similar approach should China invade Taiwan.
From the moment Russia started sending troops across their western border, many have seen similarities between Taiwan and Ukraine. As the latter denied Russia the quick victory that many inside the Kremlin forecasted, it gave hope to those in Taiwan that they too would be able to ward off any incursions by their much larger foe. And it would appear that China shared that apprehension, at least initially.
CIA Director William Burns told a House Intelligence Committee in March that Beijing had been “surprised and unsettled” by both Ukraine’s resistance and the Western response.
However, Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s tone and comments were anything but apprehensive and unsettled on the subject of Taiwan during his opening remarks at this week’s Party Congress. Wen-Ti Sung, a political scientist with the Australia National University’s Taiwan Studies Program, noted that Xi’s approach to the subject shifted from previous speeches and conveyed a “newfound urgency on making progress on the Taiwan issue.”
In fact, the delegates in attendance rendered their loudest applause of the night whenever Xi spoke on his hope for a “peaceful reunification” coupled with the resolve to “reserve the option of taking all measures necessary” to see that reunification come to pass.
In short, it would appear that any fears he had back in March have been assuaged in the months since. And while there are several plausible explanations for how that shift may have occurred, the most likely is the belief that the united Western support that has proved so crucial to the defense of Ukraine will not be extended to Taiwan.
The cost of commitment
We will discuss the implications of that reality for the United States in particular in tomorrow’s Daily Article. But before we do, there’s an important lesson from the European response that we need to consider.
Towards the end of Christ’s ministry, he cautioned his followers against underestimating the level of commitment required to be his disciple. To drive the point home, he compared that commitment to the way a builder counts the cost before beginning to construct a tower and to a king who measures the strength of his army against the enemy’s forces before engaging in battle (Luke 14:25–33).
This teaching was important because Jesus understood that maintaining one’s commitment is much more difficult when it begins to cost us more than we would prefer to pay.
Christ commanded total commitment from his disciples—above their commitment to family, friends, and most of all themselves—because he knew they could not comprehend what it would cost to follow him. As such, weighing that cost was less about what they would have to pay than about what they were willing to pay.
Understanding that distinction is just as important for us today as it was for his disciples nearly two thousand years ago.
How much are you truly willing to sacrifice?
Many of the protests in Europe are the result of countries hoping that the war in Ukraine would cost less than they’re currently having to pay. As such, their citizens are less likely to sanction a similar wager if China invades Taiwan, and Beijing appears to have reached a similar conclusion.
As the cost of following Christ in our culture continues to rise, let’s learn from their example.
For a long time, Christians in America have had the luxury of knowing that the true cost of what we could expect to pay for following Jesus was unlikely to exceed what we were willing to pay. But as circumstances change and that cost becomes less certain, many have already begun to waver in their commitment to the Lord. And while it’s unlikely that the price to follow Jesus will rise to the point of death, only God knows where it will ultimately fall.
So take some time today to ask the Holy Spirit to help you examine by which measure you’re counting the cost of discipleship.
Have you put limits on how much you’re willing to pay to follow Jesus?
Is your commitment based on what you want it to cost or on what Christ says it could cost?
It’s all right to hope for the former so long as you are prepared to pay the latter.