Over the past year as Christians have observed the events unfolding in Ukraine the overwhelming response of the Church has been to “pray for Ukraine.” Is such concern, however, merely driven by the airways or a general humanitarian interest? The content of the prayers of many Christians seem to indicate we are praying to our Father who art in Washington, rather than our Father the Prince of Peace. Are our hearts in the right place? Let us hope not for a victory for Ukraine in the war, but a victory for God.
Praying for Victory or Peace in Ukraine
Americans love our “current things,” they make us feel relevant and special. We get to look so caring and compassionate, going before the world and affirming our opposition to the evils and injustices out there. Being caring is not wrong, but I would suggest this instance of “caring” feels overwhelmingly insincere and manufactured.
Who cared about Ukraine until Russia got a bit too daring? You would think if we were sincerely concerned about the sovereignty of the Ukrainian people we would have been “thinking and praying” for them since 2014, but if you look at the data we only slightly cared back then and then entirely forgot about them until the second invasion.
It also seems like our care entirely depends on our in-group, because when it was “Trump’s vaccine” it was a vile poison, but when hands changed it became a life-changing elixir. Funny how our humanitarian side seems to be in lockstep with the ebb and flow of the 24-hour news cycle, hmm? (Also interesting just how controlled the narratives of that cycle tend to be.)
My focus in this article is, clearly, the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war. I am not here to discuss how the American war machine instigated the conflict, or to otherwise talk about the conflict itself in any direct way. Rather, I want to talk about Christians’ perspectives on the war. The world is the world and it will do things in a worldly way, but Christians should know better and should be held to a higher standard (cf. Jas. 4:17). Ever since the whole Ukraine thing blew up the airways, (American) Christians have been making sure they sufficiently demonstrate their compassion.
The clarion call to raise prayers to Ukraine has been sounded by just about every major Christian outlet out there, from Christianity Today to the Billy Graham Evangalelistic Association, from Christianity.com to The Christian Century and The National Catholic Register, along with thousands of local churches. I am certain if someone does the math they’ll find that churches and other Christian organizations are nearing the billions in private aid given to Ukraine over the past year.
Praying for repentance or defeat?
Is any of this problematic? Is my gist that I find it wrong that Christians are trying to alleviate the problems of people who have to keep an ear out all day for air sirens or have lost their homes? No! How cruel and fraudulent of a “Christian” could I be if I thought such things?
Rather, my concern is with whether or not we care about Ukraine because we are being convicted by the Holy Spirit or (instead) by the talk of pundits and the agenda of the United States national security state. Do we care because we want to sow the Good News and have God reap a bountiful harvest in the Ukraine, or because (as I’ve heard from more than one Christian) they want Putin to drop dead? Are our hearts in the right place?
To demonstrate my obvious implication that we are not, let us turn to Scripture. There is a story told in the Bible of a group of people from a foreign land. They were surrounded by another country, far stronger and far bigger, which they were afraid of.
One day, this country invaded the smaller one, and began making steps to absorb its annex’s identity into its own imperial matrix. This run-of-the-mill imperialism, however, wasn’t just kowtowed to, and a group of natives of the subjugated nation rose up in revolt.
They fought desperately for the freedom of their homeland and to repel this invading force and halt its destruction of their identity. Any idea of who I’m talking about? The Zealots, of course, an infamous insurgency in 1st century Judea against the occupying Roman authorities. The situation Israel faced in that day is rather similar to the plight of the modern day Ukrainian, as either situation boils down to basic imperialism and resistance.
What was Christ’s response to this situation? How did He “pray for Judea”? While it is true that Jesus was never directly faced by the Zealots (at least not recorded in the New Testament), He still interacted with their main concerns: the subjugation of Israel and the removal of Rome from Judea.
A most interesting demonstration of Jesus’ sentiments can be seen in the company He kept. Consider Matthew, the tax-collector, and Simon, the Zealot. These two men were polar opposites. One helped with the groundwork of the Roman occupation, and the other lived to overthrow said occupation. Imagine the tensions that there would be between a Russian and Ukrainian soldier who were part of the same missionary team.
Yet, Jesus brought these two totally contradictory persons into His inner circle, called them to a new life following his Way, and sent them out into the world to preach His Good News of peace among all men through repentance and turning to God. It was to the Judeans under the yoke of Rome that He declared “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
When it came to the evil powers in the world Jesus didn’t command resistance, but rather He commanded repentance. He warned that “all who take hold of the sword will die by the sword” (Matt. 26:52) while being defended from those very powers.
Jesus said that “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10), and Paul tells us “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens” (Eph. 6:12). God’s children are immensely precious to Him, but they’re held in a demonic snare. If we kill them, how can we possibly save them?
So, for those lost to the worst slavery, Paul implores us to pray for them, “even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim. 2:2). In like manner, Jesus (and Scripture) on several occasions praises the villainous Romans as even better than His own Judeans, like the centurion with the ill servant and Cornelius.
The call to a peaceful and quiet life
This attitude is what I find overwhelmingly lacking from Christians’ handling of the war in Ukraine. I’ve looked, and out of all the major outlets I’ve found nary an expression of this sentiment, except a single article at The Christian Post (and even then it’s just an opinion article by a guest contributor).
Christianity Today came close, okaying saying a prayer for Putin, but in particular for his demise. That seems to be the common sentiment, that Saint Zelensky is valiantly throwing back the demonic Russian hordes, and that we need to pray for God to make his sword swift and true to strike down that great dragon, the ancient serpent, the one called the devil and Putin.
We want to (in typical G.I. Joe, leaders of the Free World, American fashion) see Putin disempowered and stripped of everything, and subjected to treatment on a scale that goes from Hussein to Gaddafi. Sorry if I don’t see that as being very Christlike, but it simply isn’t.
What is Christian is not to pray “for Ukraine” or “for Putin’s demise,” but for peace. Here’s a revolutionary idea: Zelensky and Putin are both terrible people, leaders of terrible governments, and terrible abusers of their citizens, subjecting millions to the horrors of war because of their sins. Zelensky (for a few billion) and Putin (for a revanchist, backed-into-a-corner agenda) would rather flatten the Donbass than let Luhansk and Donetsk freely exercise their right to self-determination.
What a Christian should be doing in this situation is not praying for the Russians to be repelled or that Russia collapses. Do you know what either outcome entails, dear Christian, or are you just huffing the fumes of the primetime war?
My stomach twists everytime I hear a person in my church swoon over how Zelensky said “Send me bullets instead of a ride” because that was just so heroic! Let me paint you a picture: a Russian soldier, just 20, thinking of his mother, who he was torn away from months earlier by a notice of conscription, as he lies on the ground of Pavlivka sputtering and bleeding out from one of Zelensky’s bullets in his chest.
Being like Christ is revolutionary
Instead, let the Church do this: be like Christ. How revolutionary. Love your enemies, and protect the innocent. Don’t send Ukraine (just) supplies, send Ukraine the Gospel. Don’t pray for Putin’s demise, pray for his salvation. Don’t hope that Ukraine will win, hope that God will win.
What do you think is the most Christlike vision: one of a Ukrainian battalion pushing the Russians back across the border, or of soldiers laying down their arms and pledging themselves to put on the armor of God?
Christians will help Ukraine not by helping it’s war effort, but by helping God’s war effort against Satan, the father of lies and murder, of which there is plenty of in Ukraine. What else should we expect from the servants of the Prince of Peace?