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Holy Week in a Time of War

The Son of Man must suffer many things,
be rejected by the elders, priests, and teachers of the law;
he must be killed and on the 3rd day, rise again.

(Mark 8:31)

Whenever there is some sort of catastrophe in the world, many people of goodwill begin to wonder, “Where was God?”  I heard this after 9-11, I heard this after the fall of Afghanistan, and I’ve heard it since the invasion of Ukraine, as well. Often, this question stems from a misconstrual of God’s sovereignty—a rather naïve belief that God wills every single thing that happens in this world—even actions that are clearly evil.  The witness of Scripture, by contrast, is that God opposes evil in every form that it takes, but the ways that God fights evil are often overlooked.

After 9-11, I read a number of thoughtful essays identifying God with the fireman and policemen who rushed into the World Trade Center while everyone else was trying desperately to flee.  Other writers saw God’s hand at work in the courageous acts of those who prevented flight 93 from crashing into the Pentagon, even though that flight would crash elsewhere.  Others saw God’s hand at work in the work of total strangers (like those in Gander, Newfoundland), who completely changed their own lives for days or weeks, or months to care for those who were displaced by these attacks.

As I am finally beginning to sort through all the scenes of the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, I’m beginning to identify a similar pattern there.  I see God at work in the courageous acts of firefighters who disregard oncoming missiles to extinguish burning buildings with citizens trapped inside.    I see the hand of God in the Ukrainian rescue worker who has repeatedly crossed Russian checkpoints with his hands up in order to rescue the disabled and the elderly who are living without heat and food. I see the hand of God in the couple who traveled more than 1000 miles from Belgium to Lviv in order to bring 6 perfect strangers back to this couple’s home in Brussels.  I see the hand of God in my clergy colleague who flew out from Minneapolis to the Ukrainian border in order to shepherd refugee children without fathers into a place of safety, while also offering “art therapy” to them.  (He did the same thing in Syria just a few years ago).  Finally, I see the hand of God in the members of this church who have chosen to make a sacrificial gift to Ukrainian refugee relief through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, including one donor who has contributed more than one thousand dollars to this cause.

Looking back on all of this, I realize once again that God is always there in a crisis.  We just don’t always see it at the time.

How do I know that?  How can I be so certain that God is acting in this way?  Because I know Jesus—the way he lived and died.  Most of Jesus’s ministry was built on acts of compassion, and the climax of his ministry came through a crisis. Initially, that “Good Friday’ seemed to be an ignominious defeat.  But those who dared stand close to the cross of Christ saw so much more than that.  They heard Jesus making plans for his mother (John 19:26-7).  They heard Jesus bring salvation to a thief on the cross (Luke 23:43).  And they heard Jesus pray that God would forgive all of the rest (Luke 23:34)—even those who mocked and spat at him!

In short, God’s love was never more evident than in Christ’s time of crisis, and God’s power was never more evident than on Sunday after that.

Since I believe in Jesus, I believe God will redeem all those who are suffering through some sort of crisis—especially those in the nation of Ukraine.  It may not happen in my lifetime (or yours), but Easter is still coming.  When that bright dawn arrives, these people will be singing, their families will be thriving, and their famous sunflowers will be blooming once again.  Until then, it may be Good Friday in many parts of this planet, but God is still at work. God moves in every act of compassion that eases human suffering, every act of forgiveness that closes up deep wounds, and every act of courage that prevents them. There are angels all around us!  But it takes the eyes of faith to see.

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