Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.
Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
not looking to your own interests
but each of you to the interests of the others.
Hospital beds laden with terminally ill children lined up in a dark basement. Bloody bandages wrapped around the head of an elderly woman who struggles to walk. The back of an ambulance where a mother sobs uncontrollably as her child dies inside. A train pulls out of the station, each window bearing the tear-ridden face of a child waving goodbye to his father. The bombed insides of an apartment building strewn with broken dishes and shattered toys.
These are the images coming out of Ukraine. Images I cannot shake from memory. Is this what Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to be remembered for?
I am trying to make sense of Putin’s moves. Some reporters have speculated that he may be unstable, ill. If that’s true, why hasn’t someone stepped in to get him the help he needs? If he is mentally unstable, why is he allowed to continue leading a country? I don’t think Putin is ill. Illness can be managed. Evil cannot.
What causes man to pursue evil? Power? Greed? Vainglory? Yes. This plays out again and again in the Bible. King after king in the first and second book of Kings “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” to advance their own ambitions. (Check out 1 Kings 11:6, 14:22, 15:26, 16:25, 21:20, 22: 52—I could go on, but you get the picture.)
Over the last 20 years, Putin has watched NATO and the EU move further east bringing the threat of democracy from the west closer to Russia. From France, to Germany, to Poland, and most recently to Russia’s doorstep: Ukraine. To maintain power and status quo, the Russian government has invaded Ukraine to send a clear message to the western world: Stay away!
Putin has one goal, which is to maintain the buffer zone that currently exists between his government and democracy. He doesn’t care if women and children die in the process, nor does he care if Ukraine is left devastated. But I do think he is surprised that so many of the Russian people have protested the invasion. During the first four days of the war alone, more than 5,000 Russians were arrested. Will this be enough, however, to make Putin reassess his decision?
When King Saul felt threatened by David’s popularity, he did not listen to the people or humbly take David under his wing. Instead, he tried to control him by offering his daughters to David in marriage (1 Samuel 18:17-21) and by plotting to have him killed at the hands of the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:25). But we all know what eventually happened to Saul—not at David’s hands, but by the power of God—and we can take comfort in Proverbs 16:18. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
The battle is God’s, so we leave room for God’s justice. I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Romans who were under intense persecution. He said, Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)
I don’t know the right course of action. I wouldn’t want Russia establishing a military base in Cuba or Mexico, but I also wouldn’t condone the U.S. military bombing the heck out of those locations just to show Russia who was boss of the western world.
While the powers of this world decide the next move, I will pray that the persecuted find peace, the imprisoned receive justice, and our leaders do all they can to protect the weak. During this Lenten season—a time to commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus and reflect on what it means to be a Christ-follower—I have committed myself to praying all of this daily, with urgency and fervor. Will you join me? I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
None of us knows what tomorrow may bring, but until God calls us home, we must live as Christ calls us to live in this broken world. Life is fragile, and evil is real, but God is still on his throne.
THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND is Battle Belongs by Phil Wickham.
Lyrics: “So when I fight, I’ll fight on my knees.”