I’ve grabbed for Kleenex this week. In the wake of the Ukrainian-Russian war, I’ve felt such a fumble-jumble deep in my soul. My gut has wrenched. My deeper thoughts and reflections have churned. With the constant barrage of breaking news, tears have streamed my cheeks. Those closest to me know; I don’t cry easily.
Why? Why so moved? Why now? Sadly, war is a regular occurrence in our sin-cursed, groaning world. In my lifetime, I’ve seen the nations rage way too often. Division, animosity, and violence are as old as earliest strokes of Holy Writ (Gen 3-4). I’ve been alive for Vietnam, Rwandan genocide, Desert Storm, the Iraqi War, and Afghanistan to name a few. Why so much of a stir in my soul in this unique hour?
Perhaps because it’s an escalation in Europe. The continent has not experienced such aggression or so many people fleeing for their lives since World War 2. I’m in tears again.
Perhaps because so many friends and family, near and dear, have connections to precious people in both Ukraine and Russia. Our family and church friends have meaningful relationships, historic involvement, and long-standing ties. We feel extra-deeply in such upheaval.
And perhaps my own bigger stirrings are born of a culmination of personal conundrum. As a Christ-follower, a citizen of his kingdom, I highly value peace. Yes, I am a pacifist. Though I’ve been a Christian since I heard his call and made my salvation decision at an early age, I would not have always identified myself as a lover of peace. My rich and meaningful Baptistic heritage did not always emphasize this value. Baptist friends and family said they were for peace, but we were quicker to join with aggressive armed forces.
Twenty plus years ago, I joined and began spiritual leadership in the Brethren in Christ. Here’s a wonderful group holding many of the thick theological threads of my Baptist background, but with a passionate Jesus-kingdom focus, understanding of personal responsibility in free will, wrapped in Sovereign calling, plus a call to non-violence with one’s enemies (Matt 5). Our priority on Christo-centric, missional interpretation means we take his kingdom teaching very seriously.
At least most of the time. Sort of. Kind of. Maybe.
I think right here is the crux of my soul-stirring and tears. As a Baptistic-Brethren-Wesleyan boy, I still read my whole Bible. We are people of the Book. Our Holy Book teaches us to value life from the cradle to the grave, from the womb to the tomb. So, that stirs questions. Is it right to fold my hands in prayer, sit idly, and let brothers and sisters in a place like Ukraine be obliterated? Yes, I pray for angel armies, but what if God desires for good people to angelically stand for what is right and true in the face of what’s diabolically evil, treacherous, and destructive?
My thoughts are spinning. My stomach churns. I do not want my sons and daughters or yours to mobilize for war. No, oh no. God forbid. And yet, I recognize what has sovereignly transpired at other pivotal moments in history, like the Great War and World War 2.
While Christ gave a clarion call to peace, his spiritual interaction with Roman military leaders during his life and ministry did not include an insistence on leaving their ranks or abandoning their role as protectors and defenders. He emphasized other vital points of discipleship with such officials.
Some of you quickly resonate with my tangle of values in the face of global atrocities. Some of you will quickly grab for your theological and philosophical swords. Amidst my tears, I’m simply reflecting my current gut stirrings. Across the years, behind closed doors, in whispered voices and honest theological reflection, I have found that most committed pacifist leaders still wrestle with such questions.
Fact. Few if any say they would just let an enemy attack their wife and children if their house was invaded. Few if any really believe we should have no police or soldiers to protect, to keep order, and to defend. I’ve never met an honest, present-day pacifist who really wants a defenseless community or nation. We just want someone else to do the dirty work.
And yet, if we take Jesus seriously, his kingdom call is for kingdom people who do not punch back. People who do not rush to take up arms and fire away. Jesus’ people do not play Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em. Instead, we work to resolve conflict via calm hearts and minds. We pray for angel armies. We aim to de-escalate, to talk peaceably, and pursue non-violent means of settling differences.
Yes, right here is the likely source of my jumbled feelings, the grand conundrum of my soul and streaming tears. Where does a Christ-follower go with such feelings? These days I am drawn into the Psalms as a place to reflect in my peace-loving, justice-seeking jumbled heart. Specifically, the Imprecatory Psalms. Yes, those really raw and ugly places in the Book. The emotive ones where the psalmist cries out in the face of evil and evil people. The ones where people praise and implore the Sovereign King to grind the evil ones’ teeth in the gravel or dash their babies on the rocks (Psalm 2:9; 3:7; 58:6). Such severe places really are part of the Book and at times involve the holy character of a loving, holy, righteous, and just God.
But notice who carries out such action when needed. The LORD God. The King. Vengeance is his (Deut 32; Rom 12). I’m very aware that God often uses humans, but he also employs his angels, those spiritual forces that wage war above the human fray.
As a Baptistic Brethren Wesleyan pacifist, I’m praying more Imprecatory Psalms. As I do, I am finding peace more moments now. I’m trusting the loving, mighty, strong Holy Son who is capable of fighting our battles—and the Ukrainian’s battles—far better than we can. And now I’m grabbing for another box of Kleenex.