This now-viral picture makes the Ukrainian crisis personal: Trusting God when his timing is not ours

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This now-viral picture makes the Ukrainian crisis personal: Trusting God when his timing is not ours

March 4, 2022 - Jim Denison, PhD

Serhii, father of teenager Iliya, cries on his son's lifeless body lying on a stretcher at a maternity hospital converted into a medical ward in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Serhii, father of teenager Iliya, cries on his son's lifeless body lying on a stretcher at a maternity hospital converted into a medical ward in Mariupol, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

A picture can break your heart.

This now-viral photo shows a father identified as Serhii cradling his dead son Iliya’s head and sobbing as the teenager’s body lay on a stretcher in a Ukrainian hospital. When I saw it, I thought, What if that was one of my sons? 

Even as I write these words, pain grips my heart. 

And I wonder: Since God is a Father (John 10:30; 1 Corinthians 8:6), isn’t this how he feels about every victim of this cruel war? If so, why does this omnipotent and omniscient God allow such tragedy? 

How soon is “soon”? 

A huge blaze at the site of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant station set world financial markets tumbling overnight. It was extinguished today and officials said the plant is operating normally, though it is now under Russian control. The plant provides more than a fifth of Ukraine’s electricity, making this a major development in the ongoing conflict. 

Yesterday, we asked why God is allowing this escalating crisis. We focused on the fact that when humans misuse our God-given freedom, the consequences are not God’s fault but ours. Today I want to focus on a corollary point: the Lord then redeems even our misused freedom for his glory and the advancement of his kingdom. 

He redeemed the evil done by Joseph’s brothers by elevating Joseph to prime minister of Egypt. He redeemed Pharaoh’s hardened heart by the Exodus that freed the Jewish people. He redeemed Judas’ betrayal of Jesus by allowing our Savior’s crucifixion that atoned for our sins and makes possible our salvation. 

The Bible teaches that God will ultimately bring justice to every nation, assuring us that “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). He brought judgment against the ancient empires of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. Since he is ruler “over all the kingdoms of the nations” (2 Chronicles 20:6), we can see his hand in the fall of Nazi Germany and the USSR. We can therefore trust that the evils currently being perpetrated by Russia under Vladimir Putin will ultimately face the justice of God. 

The psalmist encouraged us, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb” (Psalm 37:1–2, my emphasis). 

But how soon is “soon”? 

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lᴏʀᴅ” 

The Jewish people were enslaved for four hundred years before their liberation from Egypt. Six million Jews were murdered by Hitler. Historians estimate that the Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin was responsible for the deaths of three million of his people; his successor, Joseph Stalin, was responsible for twenty million deaths. 

Ukrainian officials estimate that more than two thousand Ukrainian civilians have died so far in the war with Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday that nearly six thousand Russian soldiers had been killed in the conflict. 

If God is eventually going to hold Russia responsible for the illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine, why does he wait? Why is he allowing so many fathers to grieve for so many children? 

Looking back on times their Lord protected his people from their enemies, the prophet Habakkuk said to God, “You marched through the earth in fury; you threshed the nations in anger” (Habakkuk 3:12). Thus, in words the Ukrainian people could echo today, he stated, “I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us” (v. 16). 

But what if God does not answer Habakkuk’s prayer when he wants God to answer his prayer? 

The prophet’s answer constitutes one of the most eloquent and powerful faith statements in human history: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lᴏʀᴅ; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (vv. 17–18). 

How to face our fears 

How can we say the same? How can we face the fears we all feel today? 

One: Remember how the story ends

In the face of severe persecution, Paul reminded the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20–21). The Bible can testify, “Precious in the sight of the Lᴏʀᴅ is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15) because our Father knows that when his children depart this life, we are instantly with him (Philippians 1:23; Luke 23:43). 

When we remember what happens to Christians when we die, we are empowered by the fact that “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54) and that, “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). 

Two: Reframe fear as an opportunity for faith 

Paul reminded Timothy that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). When we ask the Holy Spirit to fill and control us (Ephesians 5:18), then we name our fears and turn them over to our Lord (cf. Psalm 34:4), and God redeems them by drawing us closer to himself and empowering our faith. 

Then, the more fearful our culture becomes, the more attractive our faith becomes. 

The Reformation-era scholar Desiderius Erasmus suggested that Satan hates nothing so much as for evil to be used for good. Let’s use the fears we feel as opportunities for faith every time we feel them. We will be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) and we will become more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). 

Will Satan hate your faith today?

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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