Ukrainian authorities said yesterday that Russian forces had captured the abandoned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the scene of a 1986 meltdown that sent a radioactive cloud over parts of Europe. A Ukrainian official warned that if artillery punctured the encasement of the failed reactor, “radioactive nuclear dust could cover the territory of Ukraine, Belarus, and the countries of the European Union.”
In tragic ways, this warning is a metaphor for what is happening in Ukraine today.
Rockets struck the capital city of Kyiv early this morning as the US warned that the city could soon fall to Russian forces. Ukraine’s foreign minister wrote on Twitter, “Last time our capital experienced anything like this was in 1941 when it was attacked by Nazi Germany.” The UK defense secretary said today that Russia intends to take the whole of Ukraine.
Just before Russia’s invasion began, a US Pentagon official told ABC News reporter Martha Raddatz, “You are likely in the last few hours of peace on the European continent for a long time to come.”
Stanford and Harvard historian Niall Ferguson explains that Russian President Vladimir Putin “is looking to rebuild Russia’s empire” and seeks to emulate Peter the Great (1672–1725), the tsar who built Russia into a European great power. Putin’s invasion is already having its desired effect at home as his approval ratings are soaring. The Russian public largely believes that the Kremlin is defending them by standing up to the West: half of Russians blame the current crisis on the US and NATO, while 16 percent think Ukraine is the aggressor and just 4 percent believe Russia is responsible.
President Biden spoke to the escalating crisis yesterday, unveiling harsh new sanctions meant to punish Russia. “Putin’s actions betray a sinister vision for the future of our world,” he said.
Given the danger of that “sinister vision,” what are America’s obligations to Ukraine and our world?
And on a more personal note, what are our obligations in this conflict as Christians?
America’s obligations in 3 questions
The Political Forum Institute notes that our first question can be asked in three ways: What can the United States do? What must the United States do? And what should the United States do?
The writer answers the first two questions quickly.
What can the United States do? “Anything it wants to do. Despite its recent history of mixed results, the United States possesses the most formidable military presence ever known to man. There is virtually no limit on what American forces can do” (his italics).
What must we do? “Nothing. The United States has no obligation to do anything whatsoever. It has no formal commitment to aid Ukraine, and it has no official responsibility to involve itself in regional [conflicts] that date back several centuries.”
The third question is the one on everyone’s mind: What should America do?
According to a new poll, just 26 percent of Americans say the US should have a major role in this conflict, 52 percent support a minor role, and 20 percent say we should have no role at all.
Writing for the Heritage Foundation, Luke Coffey makes a persuasive argument that “America and its allies benefit from a Ukraine that remains independent, sovereign, and able to choose its own destiny without outside interference.” As a result, he recommends that we supply Ukrainians with weapons and intelligence, implement “devastating top-to-bottom economic sanctions” against Russia, “kill” the gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 “right now,” bolster the defense of NATO’s eastern flank, and plan to aid Ukrainian refugees in Eastern Europe.
A Christian’s obligations: 4 imperatives
Whatever your geopolitical thoughts on this conflict, our responses as Christ-followers are clear. Let’s not mistake familiarity with these biblical imperatives for obedience—each is a vital step each of us should be taking today.
One: Intercede for our sisters and brothers in Ukraine
As I have written previously, 78 percent of Ukrainian adults, some thirty-five million people, are Orthodox Christians. On their behalf, you and I are to “keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18). Let’s ask God to protect and provide for them and their families. And let’s pray for God to use their faith and witness in this crisis to lead many to himself.
When we pray for our fellow believers, we join Jesus in his intercession for his church (Romans 8:34). As Janet Denison writes in her latest blog, we should “pray for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine like Jesus would pray for them—like Jesus is praying for them” (her emphasis).
Two: Pray for all leaders
Paul wrote, “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-2a, my emphasis). We are to pray for this outcome: “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (v. 2b).
To achieve this result, we should therefore pray for repentance for Vladimir Putin and others who are instigating this horrific conflict, remembering that what God did to transform Saul the persecutor into Paul the apostle, he can do with anyone who turns to him (Acts 9:1-25). And we should pray for Ukrainian, European, and American leaders to have divine wisdom, courage, and perseverance as they respond on behalf of those they serve.
Three: Seek ways to help the victims
Jesus taught us that how we treat those who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, or imprisoned is how we treat him (Matthew 25:35-40). War always creates such victims. Look for ways you and your church can help those in danger and the millions of refugees who are expected to flee Ukraine in the coming days.
Four: Oppose our greatest enemy
Jesus described Satan as “the thief [who] comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). As a result, wherever we find theft, murder, and destruction, we can know Satan is at work. He uses people and nations as his instruments of malice, but ultimately “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Christians are called to the front lines of this spiritual battle, a conflict we can win only on our knees.
Will you wage war on yours today?
NOTE: “The best time to prepare for the difficult times of life is now.” That’s a line from Janet’s latest book release, A Great Calm, in which she quotes a pastor we both heard decades ago. That advice has long stayed with us, and Janet brings it to the forefront in her latest book. Whether you’re enduring storms right now or your skies are clear and blue, A Great Calm will help you see and feel God’s peace when you need it most. Please request your pre-order copy of A Great Calm today—and be sure to request yours today as this book had a limited print run. Copies are estimated to ship starting April 15.