Yesterday marked one week since Russia launched an unprovoked attack against Ukraine by invading and contravening the democratic rights of this nation.
While we slept last night, hundreds of men, women, and children are either dead, fleeing their country with possessions reduced to a suitcase, or — in the case of most men — suddenly trading their former lives to become warriors in defense of their country.
Whenever a tragedy happens in Chicago, Central Africa, Asia, Europe, or at a local school, I always ask myself: What am I actually doing? Does liking a Tweet or posting “praying hands” emojis make a difference? And even when I pray, how does my prayer intercept the lustful, murderous grab for power from dictators like Vladimir Putin? Shouldn’t I be doing more?
Do you ever feel this way? Do you ever wonder about your role in these massive geopolitical conflicts and calamities?
Since last Wednesday, I have heard many disparage the notion of “thoughts and” prayers in the face of these crises. ‘Thoughts and prayers are not enough’, shouts the headlines for the Guardian , in response to the unending toll of lives lost to gun violence in America.
The critique is not unfair. If we have the power and the capability to change circumstances but instead resort only to private prayers, we are derelict in our duty to love our neighbor. Scripture rejects such behavior:
If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you say to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (James 2:15-17).
So, what are some appropriate ways to respond to the big challenges of our day?
Let’s start with what not to do.
Don’t resort to the comfortable and closed world of Netflix.
Escaping the world’s woes because of the unending drumbeat of war, COVID-19, carjackings, and child abuse is not a good option. I don’t support living on a daily diet of Cable news, but I try to find ways to open my eyes to God’s world. Unfortunately, an uninformed citizenry is vulnerable to manipulation and disinformation.
Don’t become cynical or mired in inaction. Don’t give up on the world. The surest way for us to make no difference is to do nothing at all.
What to do
Yesterday, Pope Francis asked the world to set aside Ash Wednesday for fasting and prayer for peace in Ukraine. I spent part of Ash Wednesday fasting and praying for peace because I believe that Jesus came to bring peace between God and humanity and between people in all places. Christians do not worship an Aristotelian God who is an unmoved mover. In that light, I am praying that God would move Vladimir Putin’s heart to see the immense suffering he is causing.
So, pray. Do pray.
We pray because God cares. God weeps as the Russian bombs rain down death and destruction in Ukraine. God weeps that our fellow human beings live and die on the streets of our own country.
When I am through praying, I try to listen for God’s wisdom directing me to do the next best thing. For example, we have a Ukrainian family connected to our church. Even though we cannot change the direction of the war — not today — what if we reached out to this family, showed them our love?
Do something practical. Our Director of Mission Caryl Weinberg can offer you any number of ways to help local families, or provide resources to our partners serving in Ukraine. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org, express your willingness to help, and she will respond as soon as she can. And there may well be Ukrainian or Russian families of your own acquaintance that you could reach out to; ask God how that may be done.
Here’s the prayer I shared on Sunday at the start of our Annual Meeting of the Congregation:
O Lord Jesus, Servant and Master, Bringer of Peace and Reconciliation, with deep sorrow and concern, we cry out to you for the deadly and costly war now occurring in Ukraine. We long for you to arrest this violence and destruction, to bring this war to a just end, and for your protection for all innocent victims and everyone directly involved in military action, in Ukraine and in Russia. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Dr. Mark Labberton, President of Fuller Theological Seminary).
We must pray — even in a time so dark the result may be too hard for us to see.
With faith in God and prayer,
Pastor Ray Hylton