Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, a Boeing 777 carrying 298 people, was on its way yesterday from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed in the Ukraine, 20 miles from the Russian border. American officials believe the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, but do not yet know who fired it.
It was reportedly flying at its cruising altitude of 33,000 feet. If so, only medium- to long-range surface-to-air missiles could have brought it down. Ukrainian soldiers are fighting Pro-Russian separatists in the area. Both sides immediately denied responsibility. However, Ukrainian officials claim that a Russian BUK SA-17 road-mobile system was used and blame pro-Russian rebels. The separatists claim that they only possess man-portable air-defense systems that could not bring down an airliner at such an altitude. Some experts believe the plane was targeted by mistake.
This tragedy affects you, for at least four reasons. One: if it turns out Russia supplied the missile that destroyed the plane, the United States’ recent sanctions against Moscow will be strengthened and could deepen the growing divide between the two. Two: if Ukrainian soldiers brought down the plane, Russia’s claim that Kiev is an illegitimate government will be reinforced and the war may intensify and spread. Three: if rogue elements now have the ability to shoot down civilian aircraft at altitude, the safety of the 8.2 million people who fly every day is in jeopardy. Four: religion is one of the under-reported but significant forces driving the conflict in Ukraine, with global implications.
Church leaders are urging the Ukrainian government to resist Moscow and work for greater national solidarity. Meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Church has been revitalized under the leadership of Vladimir Putin and calls him a “God-given leader.” By claiming sovereignty over the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Russian church contributes to religious nationalism that is fueling pro-Russian separatists.
Is Jesus on the side of the separatists, or does he side with those who are fighting them? Philosopher Jacques Ellul: “It seems as though politics is the Church’s worst problem. It is her constant temptation, the occasion of her greatest disasters, the trap continually set for her by the Prince of this World.”
Those who claim to follow Christ can avoid this trap by refusing to kill in the name of their religion, seeking reconciliation rather than revenge (Matthew 5:23-24), praying for their enemies (Matthew 5:44) and resolving their differences in a spirit of humility and grace (John 13:31-35). Justin the Martyr (A.D. 100-165) testified to the power of Jesus’ transforming love: “We who formerly hated and murdered one another now live together and share the same table.”
Could the same miracle happen in the Ukraine, and in Gaza, and in your heart?