Trusting God When We Do Not Understand God
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine enters its second week today. Battles escalated across the country this morning, with explosions rocking the capital city, Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a video on Facebook yesterday in which he told his people, “Today you, Ukrainians, are the symbol of invincibility, a symbol that people in any country can become the best people on Earth at any moment.” Given their monumental and heroic stand against Russia’s horrific invasion, it’s hard to argue with his sentiments.
However, he also warned ominously that Russian forces “have an order to erase our history. Erase our country. Erase us all.”
In the days since the invasion began, I have focused on cultural analysis with regard to Russia’s metanarrative and motivations, Ukraine’s cultural and religious heritage and strength, and practical ways Christians can intercede and otherwise support Ukraine. Today, let’s shift our focus from the cultural to the theological.
The sovereignty of God is a clear declaration of Scripture. The psalmist stated that “the Lᴏʀᴅ has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all” (Psalm 103:19). Not a sparrow can fall to the ground apart from his sovereign will (Matthew 10:29).
If our sovereign God must cause or allow all that happens, why is this invasion happening?
This is not God’s judgment on Ukraine
God sometimes uses military invasions as his judgment against nations. For example, he called the Jewish armies to conquer Canaan (Joshua 1:2-9; Deuteronomy 7:1-2) and used the Persians to overthrow the Babylonians (cf. Isaiah 13:17-18; Jeremiah 51:11).
However, this fact does not explain the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
When God brings judgment against rulers and nations, he warns them prophetically beforehand (as with Moses before the plagues of Egypt and Jesus before the fall of Jerusalem). I am aware of no prophetic warning issued to Ukraine.
In addition, God judges specific sinners and sins (cf. Acts 12:20-23). I am aware of no Ukrainian sins that would warrant Russian aggression. To the contrary, it is not the Ukrainians but Vladimir Putin who is clearly acting immorally, which leads to a second fact.
The invasion is a tragic misuse of human freedom
God “does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent” (2 Peter 3:9 NLT). However, not all people repent (cf. Revelation 16:21). He “desires all people to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4), but not all are saved (cf. Revelation 20:15).
This is because God allows humans to misuse the free will he gives us (cf. Genesis 3:5). When we abuse this freedom, the consequences are not God’s fault but ours. In my opinion, this is clearly the way to interpret this conflict biblically: the Russian invasion is a sinful attack on an innocent nation.
If God were to intervene to stop this invasion, he would be removing the consequences of Putin’s misused freedom, in which case Putin would not be free. This explains logically why the Lord is allowing this invasion.
Here’s the problem, however: God does sometimes prevent the consequences of misused freedom.
When Herod imprisoned Peter and held him for execution, God responded to the church’s intercession by sending his angel to liberate his apostle (Acts 12:1-11). When King Jehoshaphat prayed for divine intervention against a massive invading army (2 Chronicles 20:5-12), “the LORD set an ambush” against their enemies that led to their total annihilation (vv. 22–24). I recently wrote about calls for prayer in the UK during World War II that led to miraculous interventions against German forces.
Why, then, has God not answered our prayers so far by protecting Ukraine from Russia?
Three reasons I’m trusting God for Ukraine
To recap, I believe that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is an example of sinfully misused human freedom. However, I also believe that God sometimes intervenes to protect the innocent from such aggression. As a result, I am praying for him to do the same for the Ukrainians and do not know why he has not done so to this point.
This dilemma leaves me with two options: I can limit my faith in God to what I understand of God, or I can trust him with what I do not understand of him.
In other dimensions of my life, I constantly choose to trust what I do not understand, from the technology that enables me to send you these words to the car I drive and the electricity I use. I am making the same decision with God, for three reasons.
One: Some divine actions are beyond human comprehension (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9). It’s not that God will not explain his ways to me but that he cannot any more than I could teach calculus to my three-year-old grandson.
Two: We will understand in the future more than we understand in the present (1 Corinthians 13:12). All relationships require a commitment that transcends the evidence and becomes self-validating, from getting married to having children to choosing a college or a job. The more we obey God today, the more we may understand him tomorrow. And what we do not understand in this life, we will understand in the next.
Three: Obedience positions us to experience God’s best, whenever and whatever that is (cf. Romans 12:1-2). When I trust God more than I understand God, I position myself to experience God.
My favorite prayer in the Bible
With the tragedy in Ukraine and your personal struggles and doubts, I encourage you to join me in trusting God beyond what you understand of God. To that end, I’ll close by inviting you to pray my favorite prayer in Scripture.
When a father brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus’ disciples, they could not cast out the demon. So he turned to Jesus with the plea, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22). Jesus replied, “‘If you can!’ All things are possible for one who believes” (v. 23).
The father responded, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (v. 24).
Why do you need to make his prayer your own today?
Publication date: March 3, 2022
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Hannibal Hanschke/Stringer
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
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