As I hold the Ukrainian people in my heart these days, I find myself wondering what God must feel as he watches over his children in that part of the world. Last month, I received an email from a friend in Ukraine, and I have held its contents in my heart ever since. It has allowed me to see and feel what they are going through and to hold their pain differently than I would have a year ago.
Here’s the letter I received:
Today is the 290th day of the full-scale bloody unjust war of Russia against Ukraine. I am afraid to even write this because I believed that the Lord would not allow this horror to continue for so long. Unfortunately, it continues (How long, Oh Lord?)
Russia launched three massive missile attacks on our country. This is in addition to the daily shelling of certain regions of Ukraine. People died, and houses and electrical substations were destroyed. Millions of people in Ukraine suffer from the lack of light, heat, water, Internet, and telephone communication. Every day we are without light, heat, water, and communication for 12-17 hours. In other cities, people do not have light and heat for 15-20 hours a day. Authorities say the situation could worsen. Every day in Ukraine is a struggle for life, but this cannot be compared with the terrible conditions our military is in. Every day, the best sons of Ukraine die at the front. It is impossible to accept this. It is impossible to get used to it. We are constantly looking for words of comfort and support for the families of the victims. But in most cases, words cannot console. We just HUG THEM AND CRY WITH THEM.
We recently attended the funeral of two young soldiers. They were both only 21. They died in March, but their bodies could not be delivered until November. All this time, parents were waiting for an opportunity to bury their dead sons. It is hard to even imagine a funeral lasting 8 months. The day before yesterday, not far from the Belarusian border, a married couple died. The car skidded in the snow and blew up on a mine that was hidden on the side of the road. Now 8 children are left without dad and mom. After the children were told about the death of their parents, the boy asked if it was possible to call heaven.
Do we see God’s hand in these terrible days? Yes!!! He is with us in the dark and cold. He is with us when there is no water or telephone connection. He is our warmth and light. He is our water and connection. He is with our hero warriors. He is with Ukraine. Every day, every hour, every moment!!! Thank you for not leaving us alone with the beleaguered enemy. Thank you for your prayers, words of support, and financial help. You are God’s Angels for us, for Ukraine.”
Can you imagine living in all that heartache and pain day after day for almost a year? And all because one bully, Vladimir Putin, decided he was entitled to take a free country for himself, and the West refused to stand up to him because Ukraine was not part of NATO and they feared nuclear reprisal. Fear is always the currency of evil. And, please, my Russian friends, do not take these words as an attack on the Russian people. I’ve no doubt many of them decry this horrible war as well, as they, too, watch their children die for a cause they detest.
But what is God thinking when he surveys a world gone mad, where a few people given to evil can ruin the lives of so many others, whether it’s conquest as in Ukraine, sexual assault in a family, corrupt governments in Central and South America displacing their people, or a bully at school intimidating other students? What of the pain you hold even as you beg God to make it stop?
Many think God can and should stop all their suffering, and the fact that he does not either argues against his existence or his loving concern for humanity. I see it differently, like my brother who wrote the letter above. God is always in our suffering. I’m sure if he could stop all the suffering in the world immediately, he would. The joys of some people who experience abundance and bliss are certainly not, even in God’s eyes, worth the pain that others suffer in so many horrific ways.
Why doesn’t he, then? I wish I could answer that. I am convinced it is not his lack of will or power. I suspect it has something to do with the nature of God’s redemption for the whole of Creation and how that has to play out for reasons I cannot see. I do know this Father loves to his core as much for the people of Ukraine as for Sara and me. So, when I see Jesus weeping at Lazarus’s tomb, or “offering himself to God with loud cries and tears,” I know that God is not indifferent to young men and women dying in Ukraine, a hungry stomach in Kenya’s drought, or a sexually victimized young boy our girl weeping on their bed.
God grieves over the brokenness of humanity and the pain and suffering that results. I’ve no doubt he is doing all he can do to bring the Creation to full redemption and restore what he intended in the beginning. Yes, there is a strain of God’s presence that vibrates with joy and beauty, but there is also a refrain that holds the pain of his beloved children in sorrow and grief. Even though he can see what we cannot—a greater glory yet to come—he is able to hold the pain of everyone whose lives are impacted by the injustice and suffering of a world woefully out of sync with the Creator’s ways.
So, today I can sing and rejoice in all my Father’s goodness. And today, I can also hold the sorrow of those I love who bear the brunt of the world’s fallenness. And I suspect the latter will be more helpful than the former in teaching me how to live with a heart for his redemption and a compassion for my hurting brothers and sisters. As a friend of mine said recently, “Maybe he wants us to be one with the sufferings of the world and, in the same moment, be one with the victory of the Cross.” I have no idea what that means yet, but I’m learning.
Indeed, Jesus carries the heartache of the whole world, and we are invited to share in the “fellowship of his suffering” as well . . .
. . . until his Glory comes in all its fullness.