Rev Dr Chris Wright is Global Ambassador and Ministry Director of Langham Partnership (www.langham.org). He is the author of many books including commentaries on Exodus, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Lamentations and Ezekiel, and is a Senior Research Fellow of the KLC.
This article was first published in Transform, for Langham Partnership.
Why, LORD, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Chris Wright seeks a biblical response to the crisis in Ukraine.
I write this on Day 5 of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I have no idea what the situation in that country will be by the time you read this. But right now where else could one look for a “word on the world” than to the Psalms. Book I of the Psalter contains familiar gems: the wonders of creation (Pss 8 and 19); the Lord’s shepherding care (Ps 23); God’s royal ownership and authority over all the earth (Pss 24 and 29) and more. But a dominant theme, especially in the first dozen psalms, is rampant wickedness, violence and injustice, and the desperation of those who suffer such attacks and cry out to the Lord God of justice to act in their defence.
There are many believers in Ukraine today (along with believers in Russia too who deplore and grieve over the actions of their president) for whom the words of these psalms speak directly and powerfully. So rather than trying to write an essay myself, let the psalms speak for themselves, and for our suffering sisters and brothers in the midst of this conflict.
There is the face of ruthless and arrogant evil, linked with greed and ill-gotten wealth.
2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
3 He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD.
5 His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
7 His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
8 He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
9 like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
10 His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength. (Ps 10:2-10)
And, while there are no wholly innocent parties in human affairs, there is the protest of those who are wrongfully and undeservedly attacked, knowing God is the righteous judge.
3 LORD my God, if I have done this
and there is guilt on my hands –
4 if I have repaid my ally with evil
or without cause have robbed my foe –
5 then let my enemy pursue and overtake me;
let him trample my life to the ground
and make me sleep in the dust. (Ps 7:3-5)
4 For you have upheld my right and my cause,
sitting enthroned as the righteous judge. (Ps 9:4)
7 The LORD reigns forever;
he has established his throne for judgment.
8 He rules the world in righteousness
and judges the peoples with equity. (Ps 9:7-8)
And because of that ultimate confidence in the justice of God, the victims of unjust attack can appeal to God, crying out for him to act in line with his known character, in words that we must surely echo and pray with the victims of this latest aggression.
14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
you are the helper of the fatherless. (Ps 10:14)
18 God will never forget the needy;
the hope of the afflicted will never perish.
19 Arise, LORD, do not let mortals triumph;
let the nations be judged in your presence.
20 Strike them with terror, LORD;
let the nations know they are only mortal. (Ps 9:18-20)
“Let the nations be judged …” The psalmists have no illusions about the machinations of the nations in general. In the present fog of war and escalation of rhetoric and belated action among Western nations, we should not naively overlook the collusion of some governments (especially the UK) in facilitating the laundered criminality underlying the astronomical wealth that protects Putin and his friends. Such whitewashing of blatant but concealed wrongdoing brings its own curse in the international arena.
Whoever says to the guilty, “You are innocent,” will be cursed by peoples and denounced by nations. (Prov 24:24)
Those who turn a blind eye to evil, even when it is exposed with serious warnings by official commissions and reports, will find themselves ensnared by their own action (or inaction).
15 The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;
their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.
16 The LORD is known by his acts of justice;
the wicked are ensnared by the work of their
hands. (Ps 9:15-16)
Indeed, there is a bleak logic about evil, that it tends towards its own destruction. The Evil One sometimes overreaches himself and the worst wickedness destroys its perpetrator. Only God the sovereign judge knows how and when. The cross is the ultimate proof, when God took the worst that human and satanic evil could hurl at his Son and turned it to its own defeat, and then raised Jesus in victory from the dead. The psalmists had not heard of that yet, but they could thank God for the certainty of his righteousness. Wickedness and evildoers will not have the last word with impunity in God’s moral universe – an assurance of the biblical gospel narrative that the psalmists can thankfully anticipate as an ultimate reality.
14 Whoever is pregnant with evil
conceives trouble and gives birth to disillusionment.
15 Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out
falls into the pit they have made.
16 The trouble they cause recoils on them;
their violence comes down on their own heads.
17 I will give thanks to the LORD
because of his righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name
of the LORD Most High. (Ps 7:14-17)
5 You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.
7 The LORD reigns forever;
he has established his throne for judgment. (Ps 9:5,7)
“The LORD reigns!” And therefore even in the midst of the most evil events, we must look for the signs of the kingdom of God – the God who can bring good out of the most terrible evil (again, remember the cross). When I visited Ukraine in October 2017, there was so much to give thanks for: a growing number of Langham Scholars; expanding impact of evangelical seminaries; favour with the government for higher theological education; significant biblical “salt and light” by Christians in the public arena. God does not do waste. The mustard seeds of his kingdom will grow, and we will have reasons to be amazed at the work of God’s hands, just as we are now so appalled at the blood-stained hands of fallen humanity.
There is hope in the midst of the horror. And so we pray with and for our sisters and brothers that one day they will be able to, “Sing the praises of the LORD, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what he has done” (Ps 9:11).