What are we to think and how are we to respond, as Christians, to the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
For starters, the people of God are no strangers to the topic and reality of geopolitics. Abraham’s rescue of Lot among warring kingdoms, the conquest and colonization of Canaan, ongoing Israelite-Philistine conflict, the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, the return to Jerusalem under Persian leadership are all examples of how geopolitics are not only a part of the story of scripture but are an integral part of shaping the story of God’s redemption of Israel and the world.
In fact, geopolitics play an indispensable role in the two major redemption events in the Bible: (1) the exodus and (2) Christ’s death. The exodus was the deliverance of God’s people from their enslavement under the hegemon of the moment and Jesus was killed as a member of a vassal nation of its Suzerain Rome.
Beyond this, the story of the apostles and the early church continues in the same, real-world context of geopolitics as the early Christians were traversing national borders and preaching a message that resulted in imprisonment and even martyrdom. Geopolitical resistance against the early church was driven by a concern for the disruption of peace in the land.
That the complexities and messiness of geopolitics are either directly apart of or just around the corner from nearly every story in scripture makes sense because the story of scripture is historical. The stories of scripture are real, and therefore take place in the real world, with real national leaders, real boundaries, and real conflict on both small and large scales. These stories give Christians today examples that can orient our thinking and guide action when the reality of geopolitics comes crashing into our living rooms.
While we can certainly gain wisdom from the stories of scripture and the implications for us today, there are also places in scripture that speak directly to geopolitics. One of those places is the book of Isaiah. International political crisis is at the heart of the historical context of the prophet’s message.
Isaiah 7 recounts when God sent the prophet to King Ahaz who was panicked over the possibility of a Syro-Ephramite invasion resulting from the rise of Assyrian aggression in the region. King Ahaz was checking the city’s water supply to see how many days they could hold on should they be surrounded from the outside by foreign military forces. Ahaz’s story is paralleled with the story of king Hezekiah who was surrounded by Assyrian forces and impending destruction of Jerusalem.
The message to these men at these moments is the same: do not fear; trust God because he is the orchestrator of history.
In moments like these, the top-priority lesson for Christians is do not fear. Fear is the stuff of manipulation. The media wants us to be afraid, politicians want us to be afraid, and our Adversary wants us to be afraid. They want to keep us afraid because they all have an agenda and a plan for our lives. Fear means being vulnerable to false guidance. When we are afraid, we fall short of thinking God’s thoughts on matters. As Isaiah tells Ahaz, if we don’t stand firm in faith, then we won’t stand at all (Is. 7:9).
Fear deteriorates our trust in God that he is in full control of the events of history. Christ came to do away with fear. Christ came to dispel the lie that God is not sovereign and cannot be trusted. The cross reminds us that God, the uncreated, perfect, incorruptibly good and utterly sovereign creator of all things, love us. Above all else, do not fear.
Hezekiah responds faithfully to the prophet’s exhortation to trust God. Because of Hezekiah’s faith, God redirects history. In response to Hezekiah’s faith, God takes the world’s largest army, who is standing on the lawn of the people of God, and walks them back home like a horse with a bit in his mouth. God says to Assyria, “Because you have raged against me and your complacency has come to my ears, I will put my hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will turn you back on the way by which you came.” This military believes themselves to be an unstoppable force, when in fact, they are merely the instrument of God for God’s purposes in the world.
Don’t fear, trust God. He is in control and loves us.
What we are seeing in the Russian-Ukraine crisis is nothing new. Moments like these are not new to God and not new to God’s people. This is history on repeat. God does not magically extract his people out of the messiness of geopolitics; rather, he works in it and through it for his greater purposes. We must trust God that the same way he was in full control when Jesus hung on a Roman cross in a messy geopolitical moment, he is also in full control as nations invade other nations. Therefore, do not fear is the first thing to remember in the midst of geopolitical crisis.