Our world has suddenly become very volatile and unpredictable. We may not be at war, but we are already in a very serious political and economic conflict with Russia. Even more seriously, we find ourselves in a proxy war through our logistical support for Ukraine (not to mention ongoing cyber warfare). We’re not sure how this will develop or where it will end. Every political and intelligence analyst is trying to discern what Putin will do, but no one really knows. Escalation from either side is very possible, and so we live in huge uncertainty about what the world will be like in the weeks and months ahead. It is easy for us to lose our footing in the middle of everything we’re facing at the moment. Here are five things to ground us in our attitudes and actions when everything seems to be thrown into the air.
- Let’s remember that our violent and volatile world is the same world as the Bible
While all this is stressful and anxiety-inducing for us, it is a great comfort to know that volatility and violence are very familiar to the world of the Bible. Our experience and our emotions have already been captured within the pages of Scripture. The Bible depicts a world that is prone to being turned upside down:
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging (Psalm 46:2-3)
We live in a world in which certainties and safety are regularly torn apart.
Further, much of the Old Testament narrative is written against the background of regular war, invasion and occupation (the New Testament was written in the context of Roman occupation). Believers knew the visceral terror of invading armies:
Their quivers are like an open grave;
all of them are mighty warriors.
They will devour your harvests and food,
devour your sons and daughters;
they will devour your flocks and herds,
devour your vines and fig trees.
With the sword they will destroy
the fortified cities in which you trust. (Jeremiah 5:16-17)
Jesus himself predicted a world of wars, rumours of wars, earthquakes and conflict (Matthew 24:6-7).
All this is to say that our present experience of the world as unsafe and turbulent is, biblically speaking, normal. There is a strange comfort in this as we can know that we haven’t been singled out for special testing. What we are experiencing isn’t different from what many believers have lived with down through time (1 Corinthians 10:13). We are living in the same kind of world that believers have always lived in.
A few months after the beginning of WWII, CS Lewis preached this in a sermon:
‘The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself….We are mistaken when we compare war with "normal life". Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of cries, alarms, difficulties, emergencies.’
The surface instability of our world reflects a permanent underlying fallenness that, ironically, doesn’t change.
- Let’s remember that all things pass
The current war is obviously dominating our thoughts and feelings. Everything has been thrown into the air. We’ve been made to re-think where our world is heading. Our experience of the war has also been intensified by news-filled social media, which diminishes geographical and emotional distance. We now have instant access to videos of burnt-out tanks, POWs and the speeches of leaders. We can, through our phones, instantly read the up-to-date opinions of experts and commentators. We feel a closeness to the events of war in a way that we have probably never experienced before.
We must remember though, important as the present war is, it is not absolute biblically speaking. The issues at stake here are obviously huge. The onslaught of images and experiences, the fear, the threat and the tragedy all overwhelm us. But these events aren’t ultimate because only God and his purposes are ultimate. All things in this world (including war and devastation) pass.
What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Important as the war is, we must put it in its place within God’s everlasting plan. The kingdoms of men are subject to the Kingdom. The gospel must still be preached. God is still to be worshipped. I am still to love my neighbour.
Further, while it is good and important to be informed about events, we must take care not to be hyper-informed. We don’t want our minds filled with the 24-hour news more than the good news. We don’t want the BBC to be bigger than the Bible in our thinking. We don’t want the latest video clip to eclipse the eternal word of God. Rather, let’s keep ourselves rooted in the solid foundation of Scripture.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away (Luke 21:33).
- Let’s remember that our God doesn't change
In the time of the prophet Isaiah, Israel were facing a time of huge upheaval and instability with the end of the 40-year reign of King Uzziah and the threat of the local superpower, Assyria. In the middle of that, Isaiah is granted a jaw-dropping vision of God (Isaiah 6:1-8). What he and the people needed was a recovery of the knowledge of God. This is what we need as well. Wars and crises are our opportunity to return to the living God in all his glory, greatness and love.
In particular, our great hope in the middle of the world’s volatility, is the unchanging nature of God. Our God is the Father of the heavenly lights who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17). Theologians refer to this unchanging nature as impassibility. Impassibility describes the absence of change, development, increase or growth in God. He has no potential to become anything else. Positively, he always possesses the same perfection and fullness. There might be lots of turbulence in the world, and in us, but there is no volatility in God. He has been, is and will always be the same in all his goodness, love, power, majesty and perfection. The shifting shadows of this world do not define him. The same God who appeared to Isaiah is the same God who comes down to us.
This is all very good news for us because it means that, while mountains may fall into the heart of the sea, and the waters roar and foam with their surging (Psalm 46:2-3), the covenant promises of our God endure. War, invasion and destruction do not invalidate God’s promises because those promises are undergirded by his steadfast love. That steadfast love does, by its very nature, not change (Psalm 138, Romans 8:31-39). Of course, as frail wavering people, we may feel confused by events, and fall into anxiety, but we can be certain that crises do not break the covenant. In fact, we can calibrate our lives by that covenant. We will not fear because our God is an unchanging refuge and nothing can separate us from his unchanging love.
- Let’s remember our duty to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine
We’re seeing huge suffering in Ukraine with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing for their lives, while those who remain face terrifying danger and deprivation. Our hearts are torn as we see interviews with young families and see pictures of geriatrics taking up arms. What shall we do? Simply put: we should overflow with generosity towards the needy, hospitality for refugees and prayer for the vulnerable.
As believers we care for all people irrespective of their background or beliefs, but we do have a particular responsibility for other believers. Galatians 6:10 sums it up very well: Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
We do good to all, but particularly to other believers. We’re not just humanitarian, but Christian. When Jesus saw the widow burying her dead son, we’re told that his heart went out to her (Luke 7:13). We should respond with no less compassion. Moreover, we’re bound to other believers through our own union with Christ. We’re connected to our suffering brothers and sisters by unbreakable bonds made by Jesus himself. How we treat them in this war is how we treat Christ, as Jesus says in his famous parable, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40).
The parable states clearly that the authenticity of our Christian faith is demonstrated by the way we treat such suffering believers. The immediate, obvious suffering of congregations facing shelling, hiding in underground shelters and risking their lives to help others, should do something with how we use our resources.
- Let’s remember joy in the darkness
When darkness seems to reign, we can still seek joy in the gloom. Happiness in Christ, praise and singing are powerful ways of resisting and subverting evil. Joy reminds us that evil is neither omnipotent, nor omnipresent. It demonstrates that this bleak world is not all that there is. Joy reminds us that deprivation and suffering are temporary struggles. It tells us that there’s another story behind the catastrophe before our eyes: the gospel. And this gospel enables us to rejoice when everything is gone.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)
When we rejoice, heaven breaks in and destroys the work of the devil.
The joy I’m speaking of here isn’t escapism. No, it is fully compatible with struggle, pain and suffering. The Apostle Paul describes his own experience as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:10)
For Paul, joy was resurrection life showing itself in the middle of taking up the cross. Tolkien sums up this kind of joy in his brilliant description of Gandalf’s joy in the battle for Middle Earth:
Pippin glanced in some wonder at the face now close beside his own, for the sound of that laugh had been gay and merry. Yet in the wizard's face he saw at first only lines of care and sorrow; though as he looked more intently he perceived that under all there was a great joy: a fountain of mirth enough to set a kingdom laughing, were it to gush forth.
So, as we feel bombarded by much bad news and violent scenes, let’s remember joy because the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.