Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video. I finished last week with one of the most challenging apologetic questions hanging in the air. Its framed around the current situation in Ukraine, but you will find yourself asking it around any other area of human misery caused by human wickedness or natural disaster. We assert that God is both loving and powerful. If that is the case, it doesn’t much look like it. Its almost universally acknowledged that Putins’s actions in Ukraine are wicked, cruel and harmful. God loves the people of Ukraine, so why doesn’t he do some smiting to deal with it. Of course, he also loves Russian conscripts, who fed a diet of lies and propaganda are pulling the trigger, thinking that their cause is also just and protective. So, protecting one innocent party might involve inflicting harm on another, if you follow that argument.
Intervention in any area of human suffering is never straightforward. I have done work in the past in addiction rehab centres. We’d agree that addiction is a terrible thing and we should seek to help those who are addicted. However, I saw a number of occasions when people in an advanced stages of self-destruction were brought in to the centre against their will. Desperate relatives hoped that somehow it would help. But the centre wasn’t a prison and within days the person had usually escaped to go and get more drugs. Treatment only worked when people had owned the fact they needed to change. In fact, sometimes families had to learn that their natural, loving instinct to protect their loved ones from the worst consequences of their addiction was counterproductive. By baling people out they supported people in active addiction. Part of the therapy was a whole family approach in which families gained the courage to let people go and experience consequences. It was only the addicts who reached the gutter (literally in many cases) who were finally broken enough to begin the journey to recovery. All change begins with ownership that there is a problem.
A few weeks ago in Church, we considered the temptation story. This seems to me one of the most powerful scriptural texts to explore this question. Jesus, after 40 days fasting in the wilderness is confronted by the Satan character. At the heart of this is tempting Jesus to the right outcome in the wrong way. The temptations invite Jesus to satisfy his hunger outside the divine will; to use power rather than love to achieve his aims; and to demonstrate his divinity in such an incontrovertible way as to compel belief. They are temptations because Jesus could have done any of these things, but chose not to.
History doesn’t look favourably on attempts either religious or secular to compel a vision of the good life. Think of Cromwell’s England, or Calvin’s Geneva, or the Spanish Inquisition, or worse Communist Russia’s attempts to enforce justice. Even the laudable aim of reducing hurt and fostering inclusion in our day runs the risk of a sort of intimidatory thought police where public shaming is used as a means of enforcing conformity.
Jesus had the clear end in view of furthering Father’s agenda of growing the Kingdom of God. A kingdom whose destination is Revelation 21: 6, a place where there will be no more mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. But throughout his ministry he steadfastly resisted compulsion. Hearts were changed by unexpected encounters of grace. People who deserved nothing but punishment encountered love and acceptance, and hearts were melted – think Zacchaeus and the prodigal son. So, does He intervene in situations like Ukraine. I actually believe he does, but I have no control experiment to compare what the situation would look like if he wasn’t intervening. If Jesus’ ministry is anything to go by the interventions will be ambiguous. They will be like the things we glimpse out of the corner of our eye which disappear when we turn to face them. They will be subtle movements of the tiller that don’t overrule human choice and freedom. They will actively seek the prayerful partnership of God’s people. I’m sure that if God were not in some way active in providence the world would be a lot ghastlier than it is. I have no evidence for that, but I do think the scriptures point to a God who is relentlessly pushing forward the Kingdom agenda in the power of love rather than the love of power. I believe as we read the end of the story in the book of Revelation there will be a good outcome. I’m not sure that any of us living in the midst of this restoration process is in a position to judge fairly whether its worth it.
Looking at all this through the lens of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus there is a picture of very costly involvement, leading to the ultimate sacrifice of God on our behalf. We also see the greatest imaginable evil – the crucifixion of the son of God becoming an unimaginable good- the redemption of the world. This is not just a passive alongside sympathy, but an ultimate resurrection victory. In the midst of the mystery of the now, it is that that gives us hope.