While the war in Ukraine has been on our hearts since it began, its dark realities came to new light with the discovery of corpses in Bucha. When struck with the depravity of human beings in such overt ways it often causes us to ask theological questions.
- Does God know what is happening?
- Does God care about the Ukrainians?
- Is God sovereign?
Job 38:1-42:16 reminds us that God is sovereign over the universe. Human beings do not have a right to prosperity, peace, or ease. Through human history God has allowed some to be born during times and places of intense suffering while others experience blessing and prosperity. These discrepancies occur at both the national and individual family level. Some children are born into loving, Christ-centered families while others are born into the hands of wicked parents. Some families have significant financial resources providing greater options at every stage of life. Life on earth is not equal or fair.
Even when a person agrees that the Bible teaches God’s absolute sovereignty over all creation, how one responds matters.
The fatalist resigns themselves to the luck of the draw. What happens will happen. There is little personal ambition, responsibility, or hope. This person admits that living in Ukraine would be difficult but refuses to think about it more. It is just the way it is. Even when calamity occurs in their life (a death, fearful medical diagnosis, or a life changing circumstance), they put their head down and muddle through. The fatalist misses much of God’s care, love, purposes, or desires. At the same time, he misses the opportunities in front of him.
The quitter admits that God is sovereign, but no longer wants much to do with the Lord. Quitters are so overtaken by the suffering in places like Ukraine (or their own personal suffering), that the only reasonable conclusion is to reject God. Their mantra is “He will not be faithful to his people so I will not be faithful to him.” Quitters decide that all we can do is just get ours and die. They view God as an enemy waiting to destroy them. Thus, they do whatever would seem enjoyable to them. Some might get involved and help from a strictly humanitarian perspective, but most will move on with the attitude of “let’s eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”
For this person, the presence of suffering results in rejecting the presence of God altogether. They reason that God could not allow this level of evil and suffering in his world. This person decides that they must create their own purpose for living. Human life is the end, they reason. They accept a humanistic worldview. In his famous book, Night, Elie Wiesel describes the time he gave up on God. His experiences during the Holocaust had no explanation. The evil he witnessed and experienced could not, in his opinion, be placed in a biblical worldview. He actions and words have led many away from the cross of Christ for decades.
Followers of Christ are willing to allow suffering in their worldview. None of us have the right, they reason, to ease or prosperity. Some will receive it as a gift, but it is not a guarantee to all people of all time. Instead, unending ease and prosperity is reserved for heaven for those who know Christ. Until that time, we live in a world waiting for the day of its redemption (Romans 8:18-22). We believe that God loves and remains active even when suffering abounds (Romans 5:1-5). God grants grace (2 Corinthians 12:9, Hebrews 4:14-16) amid suffering and even secures our feet on grace itself (Romans 5:2). At the same time, he reminds us that it is not always personal sin that leads to suffering (John 9), but rather that hardship, suffering, even cruel death lead all of us to repentance (Luke 13:1-5).
Habakkuk describes God’s judgment upon Israel. Did God stop caring for the nation? Of course not (Romans 9-11). Is God sovereign? Absolutely, he can use wickedness and then turn around and judge the wickedness. Does God know what is happening? Habakkuk initially thought he was informing God (Habakkuk 1:1-4) yet learned that God knew all along. He was orchestrating his grand plan.
What should we do now?
If we accept God’s care, love, and sovereignty, then how should we respond being over 5,000 miles away?
Pray for the progress of the gospel
Paul wrote to the Philippians while under house arrest. The tone of the book, however, is joy due to the expansion and participation in the gospel (Philippians 1:12-30). We are horrified by the images of civilians tortured, raped, and killed. The scenes are grotesque. They illustrate the depravity of man. As Malcolm Muggeridge is credited with saying, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” After seeing the pictures in Bucha, it is hard to deny man’s sinfulness and depravity. Thus, the need is clearly before us. We need Christ. May God use this horrible war to populate the heavenly streets.
Use the suffering to evaluate your heart
The Ukrainians did not deserve this. They were attacked without provocation. In fact, they gave over part of the east and Crimea to the Russians in 2014 with only minimal resistance. Now they fight and suffer. Families have been torn apart; we have seen mothers crying over their dead children. Jesus tells us in Luke 13 that human suffering is a chance for all of us to repent. I may not fear a bomb dropping on my house, or a missile hitting my workplace, but evil is still in my heart. I am still quick to anger unlike the Lord who is slow to anger (Exodus 34:6-7); I am still quick to clamor for justice when the Lord is compassionate; I am still quick to be done when the Lord is quick to forgive. In other words, suffering helps me personally reflect. It is an opportunity for change.
Encourage those we know in suffering
Hebrews 3:13 reminds us to encourage one another today because we may not get tomorrow. Hebrews 13:3 tells us to remember those in prison and who are ill treated because we all know about human weakness. We know what it is like to be cold, hungry, and in pain. Words matter. Proverbs 18:21 says, “life and death is in the power of the tongue.” Ephesians 4:29 tells us to use edifying words according to the need of each moment. We can, and should, seek to encourage those who are suffering.
Provide aide as appropriate
Caring for the poor is a biblical theme that is too large to unpack in a short article. Part of Christian duty is caring for people who have physical needs (James 2:15-16). Many Ukrainians have lost everything. Their home, vehicles, and workplaces are gone. They seek refuge in other places because home is to dangerous. They come with little more than a suitcase to restart their lives. We cannot prevent or end the war, but we can assist those who suffer from it. Maybe we can travel to help them, maybe we can give financially, but we certainly can pray.
Let’s use this crisis to grow, mature, and make a difference.