Posts tagged ‘Russia’

Russia Invades Ukraine

Credit: Getty Images

Last Thursday, the world changed.

When Vladimir Putin ordered an invasion of Russia’s neighbor to the southwest, Ukraine, tanks rolled in, troops marched in, missiles were launched, military and civilian casualties were sustained, and the world stood aghast. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg thundered in response to the invasion:

Russia has attacked Ukraine. This is a brutal act of war. Our thoughts are with the brave people of Ukraine … NATO is the strongest alliance in history, and make no mistake we will defend every ally against any attack on every inch of NATO territory. An attack on one ally will trigger a response from the whole alliance.

Certainly, Russia’s aggression has put much of the world on edge.

Like Ukrainians today, ancient Jews were no strangers to invaders. First it was the Assyrians who invaded northern Israel. Then the Babylonians invaded the southern half of the nation. Then the Persians conquered the Babylonians and ruled Israel followed by the Greeks who conquered the Persians. By the first century, it was the Romans who were occupying Israel. Also like Ukrainians today, ancient Jews struggled and suffered under a steady stream of invaders. This is why so many ancient Jews were looking for a militarized Messiah. They wanted someone who could depose their intruders.

Jesus, however, did not turn out to be that kind of Messiah. As He told Pontius Pilate when He was on trial:

My kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36)

Often, it is assumed that Jesus was waxing poetically about some “pie-in-the-sky” otherworldly kingdom that sounds nice theologically, but is of very little value practically in a world where realpolitik rules. But this interpretation of Jesus’ words is a misinterpretation of Jesus’ words.

When Jesus says His kingdom is not of this world, He does not mean that His kingdom has no effect in this world. Quite the contrary. Jesus’ kingdom is over all earthly kingdoms, which means that every earthly kingdom – both ruthless and righteous – will not and cannot escape accountability to Jesus’ eternal kingdom.

Injustices will be righted. Lives taken will be vindicated. And Jesus will be our peace. As our world grapples with yet another war, may this be our hope.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

February 28, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Trump, Lavrov, Comey, and Flynn

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 4.55.21 PM

What a week it’s been at the White House.  Last week brought what felt like a one-two punch of political crises.  First, The Washington Post reported this past Monday that President Trump, in an Oval Office meeting, shared highly classified information concerning terrorist activity with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.  Because the information the president shared was first shared with us by one of our allies, the potential exists, according to some experts, to compromise our intelligence sharing relationships with these allies.  Then, the very next day, The New York Times published a story claiming that President Trump had asked the now former FBI director, James Comey, to end his investigation into the president’s fired national security advisor, Michael Flynn.  As soon as the story broke, many began to raise questions about whether or not the president potentially obstructed justice.  The president has since denied The New York Times’ report.

As politicians and pundits debate the consequences, the legality, and the constitutionality of the president’s alleged actions and their implications for our country, and as our political discourse continues down a path that seems to be increasingly marked by fear, distrust, and anger, here are a few reminders for us, as Christians, to help us navigate these heady times.

Pray for the president and for all our leaders.

Whether you love him, hate him, or are on the fence about him, President Trump needs our prayers.  Scripture commands us to pray for him along with all those who serve in our nation’s government: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).  This means Republicans should be praying for Democrats and Democrats should be praying for Republicans.  Political leadership is not only geopolitically treacherous because of the power it wields, it is spiritually perilous because of the prideful temptations it brings.  Politicians need our prayers.

Love the truth more than you love your positions.

In February, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote a piece for The New Yorker titled, “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds.”  In it, she cites a Stanford study in which researchers rounded up two groups of students:  one group that believed capital punishment deterred crime and another group that believed capital punishment did not deter crime.  Both groups of students were then given two studies, one of which presented data that showed capital punishment did deter crime and the other of which presented data that showed capital punishment had no effect on crime.  Interestingly, both of these studies were completely fabricated so the researchers could present, objectively speaking, equally compelling cases.  So what happened?  The students who were pro-capital punishment applauded the study that bolstered their position while dismissing the study that called it into question.  Likewise, the students who were anti-capital punishment applauded the study that agreed with their position while dismissing the other study.  These two groups were so entrenched in their positions that they dismissed, out of hand, any information that called their positions into question, even if that information was presented as factual.  In other words, they loved their positions more than they loved the truth.

Politics seems to be custom-made for the kind of thinking that is more interested in holding positions than in seeking truth.  I have seen several social media posts where people boast openly that they no longer watch this or that news channel.  Instead, they receive their news only from outlets that are sympathetic to their positions.  As Christians, we should humbly recognize that there is truth in all sorts of sources – even in sources that disagree with and call into question our political positions.

The nature of truth is that some of it will always make us uncomfortable.  Sin, at its root, is based on lies, which means that some lies will inevitably appeal to us more than some truth, for all of us are sinners.  Indeed, if some truth never makes us uncomfortable, then we are probably missing the truth!

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska offered a great bit of moral clarity on the subject of truth in political discourse when he said recently on a morning news show:

Both of these parties, going back a couple of decades now, regularly act like your main duty is to – if here’s the truth, and you think the other side’s going to say this – you think you’re supposed to say this to try to counterbalance it.  I think that’s a bunch of hooey … You’re supposed to say what you think is true and try to persuade people to come alongside with you.  You’re not trying to counterbalance one falsehood with another.

This is exactly right.  You don’t fight one political tall tale with a tall tale of your own.  Truth trumps political posturing.  In the words of the prophet Jeremiah, we are to “deal honestly and seek the truth” (Jeremiah 5:1).  We are not to blindly and sycophantically defend the positions of our favorite politicians.

Trust in the Lord; not in an earthly leader.

In politics, crises will always abound.  Politicians, after all, are fallen human beings who are prone to making the same mistakes we are and can, at times, even intentionally and malevolently sin.  This is why we cannot trust in them for deliverance from our plights and blights.  Only the Lord can deliver us from these things.

Perhaps the thing that disturbs me the most about our current political environment is not what our politicians do, but what so many of us believe our politicians can do.  So many of us seem tempted to fashion our politicians not as public servants, but as civil saviors. Sometimes, we can be tempted to believe our politicians can usher in a humanly wrought utopia (think of some of the hopes that rested on the chant, “Yes, we can!”) while at other times, we can be tempted to believe our politicians can repristinate a bygone America full of wistful nostalgia (think of some of the discourse that surrounded the slogan, “Make America great again!”).  As Christians, our hope lies not in utopia or in nostalgia, but in Parousia – the day when Christ will return and sin and death will be conquered by Him once and for all.  That is our hope.  He is our hope.  So let’s devote ourselves to proclaiming Christ, Him crucified, Him resurrected, and Him coming again.

May 22, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Turkey, Germany, Power, and Love

berlin-christmas-attack

Terror doesn’t take a break for Christmas.

This past Monday was a tragic day in Europe.  In Istanbul, Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was assassinated by Turkish police officer Mevlut Mert Altintas, who shouted “Allahu akbar!” and “Do not forget Aleppo!” in an apparent protestation of Russia’s recent bombings of the embattled city.  Then, later the same day, in Berlin, a Tunisian man, Anism Amri, is suspected to have driven a semi-truck into an open-air Christmas market, killing twelve and injuring scores of others.  ISIS has claimed involvement in the attack.

In one way, this is all too predictable.  Terrorists are trained and indoctrinated to be callous to human carnage.  They seek power through the exercise of brute force.  ISIS has made no secret of its goal of a global caliphate and, even if it knows it can never realize such a theocratic dream, it will lash out at every opportunity possible to, at the very least, wield power through fear.  Terror attacks will continue.

It is difficult to imagine how Christmas must have felt for the loved ones of those lost in these attacks.  A day that celebrates history’s greatest birth is now tinged by the stain of death.  And yet, Christmas is precisely the message this world needs in the face of these continuing attacks.  For Christmas reminds us how such attacks will ultimately be overcome.

On the one hand, we should be thankful that responsible governments work tirelessly both to prevent these attacks and to bring attackers to justice. On the other hand, we should never forget that such efforts, no matter how noble they may be, are ultimately stop gap measures.  The defeat of terrorism lies not in the power of human governments, but in the meekness and weakness of a babe in Bethlehem.  N.T. Wright explains why this is the case when he writes:

You cannot defeat the usual sort of power by the usual sort of means.  If one force overcomes another, it is still “force” that wins.  Rather, at the heart of the victory of God over all the powers of the world there lies self-giving love.[1]

Terrorism is rooted in a lust for power.  But a lust for power cannot, in an ultimate sense, be exorcised by a use, even if it’s an appropriate use, of power.  A lust for power can only be defeated by, to use N.T. Wright’s phrase, “self-giving love.”  And this is where Christmas comes in.  For it is self-giving love that moves God to give His one and only Son to the world as a babe at Christmas.  It is self-giving love that moves God’s one and only Son to give His life for the world on a cross.  And through the meekness and weakness of the manger and cross, victory is won over every sinful use of power.  To use the words of the apostle Paul: “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, Christ made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15).

In the 1980s, one of TV’s most popular shows was MacGyver.  At the heart of the show’s popularity was the fact that no matter how perilous a situation he may have found himself in, MacGyver always seemed to find a way out of it using the simplest of means. A pair of binoculars that deflected a laser beam.  A paper clip that shorted out a missile on its countdown to launch.  MacGyver’s strange and unexpected hacks to disarm every danger imaginable have become so eponymous with MacGyver himself that his name has turned into a verb.  If there is a problem that calls for a creative solution, you can “MacGyver” it!

In a world that knows only the use of force in the face of force, Jesus pulls a MacGyver.  He solves the problem of the abuse of power in a way no one expected.  He uses a manger to enter the brokenness of our world.  And He uses a cross to overcome the sin of our world.  In this way, a Turkish assassin is no match for the manger.  And a Tunisian terrorist is no match for the cross.  Why?  Because though the former things may engender fear, the latter things hold forth hope.  And hope will win the day.

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[1] N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began (New York:  HarperOne, 2016), 222.

December 26, 2016 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Processing Another Malaysia Airlines Tragedy

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

Credit: AFP/Getty Images

“Following are images from the scene – warning: GRAPHIC.”[1]

This is the caption that greeted me as I was reading through headlines about the crash of Malaysia Airlines passenger flight MH17, shot down by a surface-to-air missile while flying over Ukraine.  The crash scene is gut-wrenchingly sad – dozens of pictures of smoldering wreckage, many of these with portions blurred out to cover up the gruesome sights of human remains.  It’s no surprise, then, that before I scrolled through images from the scene posted by Business Insider, they included the above warning.

Regardless of whether this missile strike was an accidental shooting down of an airliner that was thought to be a military transport jet or an intentional targeting of civilians, the precipitating cause in this crisis, according to experts, is Russia’s conflict with Ukraine.  The New York Times editorial board posted an excellent opinion piece, calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to put a stop to not only tragedies like these, but to end a war of his own making against Ukraine:

Growing casualties on the ground, a major escalation of American sanctions against Russia, a military plane shot down and now the appalling destruction of a Malaysian jetliner with 298 people on board, shot by a surface-to-air missile. The Ukrainian conflict has gone on far too long, and it has become far too dangerous.

There is one man who can stop it – President Vladimir Putin of Russia, by telling the Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to end their insurgency and by stopping the flow of money and heavy weaponry to those groups. But for all his mollifying words and gestures, Mr. Putin has only continued to stoke the flames by failing to shut down those pipelines, failing to support a cease-fire and avoiding serious, internationally mediated negotiations.[2]

Mr. Putin is so obsessed with getting to Ukraine, it seems, that even the tragic loss of a civilian airliner is not too large a price to pay to pacify his Macbethian-style political and empire-building ambitions.  But the pictures from this airliner crash are rallying the world into sharp disagreement with the Russian president.  This must stop.

Of all the grueling pictures I have seen from this story, the one I posted at the beginning of this blog has perhaps touched my heart most deeply.  There was no warning caption of graphic content posted above this image, but there should have been.  For far more tragic than smoldering wreckage are the shattered lives of those who have lost loved ones.  A girl’s grief is far more explicit than a flaming fuselage.

My parents used to warn me, “Power corrupts.”  After following this story, I wish that was all power could do.  For whether from the halls of the Kremlin or from an open plane dotted by missiles, in this instance, power didn’t just corrupt.  It killed.  Is it any wonder that, as Christians, we rejoice in the promise that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18)?   After all, He seems to be the only one who knows how to use it – at least perfectly.  For He uses His power not to kill, but to make alive (cf. John 10:10).

May Jesus’ perfect use of power be a comfort and consolation to those who have lost loved ones in this depraved display of aggression.

________________________

[1] Michael B. Kelley, “More Than 300 People Killed As Passenger Plane Shot Down In East Ukraine,” Business Insider (7.17.2014).

[2] The Editorial Board, “Vladimir Putin Can Stop This War,” The New York Times (7.17.2014).

July 21, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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