We are all watching the scenes of the conflict in Ukraine with a mix of disbelief and dread. It is hard to tear our eyes away from the images of fleeing refugees and shelled cities. Lots of christians are posting prayers and comments about what might happen on social media. I have nothing to add of wisdom about what might happen in this conflict and whether it will escalate. In our house of prayer we are wrestling daily with how to pray into this unfolding tragedy. As many christians admit, we trust God but we don’t understand his ways very well. We pray for his kingdom to come; sometimes we praise him for clear signs of kingdom presence, and at other times we are more aware of the mystery of his purposes.
Instead I want to offer four brief reminders about what we know of our Trinitarian God when world affairs are very troubling.
Firstly, God is never the author of evil. He doesn’t want us to be mistaken about evil. Our world was created good by a very good Creator. Sin comes from the evil in people’s hearts. Satan is the tempter and the destroyer. Often subtle in his ways, he is always looking to stir up strife, and to empower dark desires. When systems and regimes are involved, that empowerment can be very great. God is always perfectly good in his very being. He never causes dark powers in the world, nor incites people to sin. That is the result of our fallen state and the fallen devil at work. We are children of a good, good Father, whose very goodness infuses the air of the world and underscores creation itself.
Secondly, God is very present in the midst of the mess. He doesn’t want us to feel alone. God is never absent from our world, even if we cannot see or sense where he is or what he is doing. The gospels underline that Jesus’ coming declares categorically that God is ‘Immanuel’ the One who is always with us. This means that he is in the caring for the fleeing refugees, in the strengthening of the resolve of those fighting for the good and the right, in the comforting of the grieving ones, in the outrage against injustice. He is right down in the middle of the mess and confusion, undergirding and profoundly holding a nation in pain and a world bewildered in the turmoil.
Thirdly, God will use even this in his wider purposes. He doesn’t want us to despair in dark times. God is never boxed in, and with God nothing is impossible. What God allows and what he causes are two very different things. He is remarkably able to bring good out of evil, and does so again and again. We of course do pray for miraculous intervention and that does happen; the kingdom does break in with power into our world. We can also pray for the power of love to overcome. That is sometimes a longer process. Yet, if the centre of our faith is our Lord dying on the cross, then we know that suffering love does overcome the worst of evil, and then rises from the ashes on the other side of death. Who knows what is being stirred by the Spirit right now – in faith in God, in the united front of leaders against oppression, in a generation realising what really matters of their freedom and their life meaning, in the countless acts of random kindness in wartime trouble?
God will also use human history and weave it into his salvation story, even his End Times story. We know from scripture that the closer we get to Jesus’ return, the more shaking increases and the more global trouble occurs. This turmoil on the edge of Europe could be leading us further towards tribulation. Yet there is nothing that can occur that is outside God’s ultimate control. He works in ways beyond our understanding; he is involved in both historic judgment of nations and systems that overstep their mark, and in saving and redeeming work amongst every tribe, language, people and nation.
Fourthly, God will not let our world destroy itself. He does not want us to fear the end of the world. The Hollywood fascination with Apocalypse and Armageddon is a skewed picture, it is not a biblical picture. Although the world teeters on the edge of oblivion and overwhelming evil in End Time tribulation, good is not obliterated nor the church downtrodden. In a coming darkest hour, God will step in to save the world from ourselves. Jesus will come on the clouds in great glory, to defeat evil and usher in his perfect kingdom; a King who is always interceding and working to bring light in darkness and to reconcile the world to God. The light of Christ and the love of God win, decisively, in the end.
So in the middle of an unfolding tragedy and conflict happening in front of us, let our confidence in God grow strong, and our ability to pray, serve, love and hope, in our spheres of influence, grow stronger too.
Thanks for reading. God bless you.