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  • Ross Moughtin

Not to respond to Putin in the way Putin would.



It was in the heady days of the so-called peace dividend. We’re talking about the early 1990’s. The Berlin Wall had been breached and the Soviet Union had come apart at the seams. The Cold War was over, which allowed the Western democracies to radically reduce our military expenditure.

Such was the importance of this juncture that American political scientist Francis Fukuyama coined the phrase The End of History. He explained: “That is, the end-point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." We had made it! And now we could devote our energies to sorting out major problems at home. No need to worry about the Soviets. And yet I recall reading one newspaper article, one lone voice urging caution. I’ve just tried to google the piece for the exact quote, but without success. Essentially, it said, do not underestimate the ability of human nature to make a mess of things. And now we see the consequences as Russian military forces surround Kviv for the final assault. The seeds for Putin’s putsch were sown during the humiliations of 1990, not least when as a KGB officer in Dresden he had to flee from angry crowds intent on trashing his office. By all accounts his speech to the Russian people this week was fuelled by a deep sense of resentment and the need for revenge. His is a personal mission to rewrite history. He wants Kyev back. But the reality is that Putin, when it comes to basics, is no different to any of us in our craving for recognition, our lust for power, even the need to dominate. We see human nature. My father had just one theological book, God and Evil by C E M Joad. His edition, I remember, was printed during the Second World War and was bought by my father in January, 1944. It was born of the events of 1938, currently popularised through the Netflix film Munich, the Edge of War, when Hitler successfully acquired the Sudeten German territory of Czechoslovakia through menacing overwhelming military force, just like Putin towards the Ukraine. Today people do not realise that the overwhelming public mood at the time was to avoid war at all costs – the memories of the Great War were still only too fresh. As it happens Joad took part in the seminal debate at the Oxford Union in February 1933, on the motion "that this House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country.” He was the main speaker for the motion. An outspoken atheist, he once rejoiced that clergymen would be extinct by 1960. However, as his book records the events in the subsequent months not just changed his mind but led him to Christ. As the Second World War unfolded, so his views on human nature began to unravel. As today, so then: things had started to go badly wrong. For us there seems no rationale for Putin’s campaign, to our minds it simply doesn’t make sense. However, as Joad observed some 80 years ago, even the need to go to war seems embedded in human nature, despite the huge cost in human life and the experience of terrible suffering. For Joad this was a puzzle. Is something else happening beneath the surface? He noticed that things always seemed to go wrong, a cosmic expression of Murphy’s law. This suggested to him a spiritual malevolence, more than just an impersonal force. Even as the apostle Paul observes: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) However, Joad could see that evil does not hold complete sway – there are many incidences of human goodness and pushing back injustice. Hence he deduced there must be a powerful force for good. Strangely Joad came to faith in Christ through believing in the devil. Our world, this creation, is not morally neutral. There are wars and rumours of wars. As Jesus teaches, this earth is being thwarted from doing God’s will. We are entirely vulnerable and so Jesus urges us to pray to be delivered from evil. Wonderfully he invites us to share his victory at the cross over the powers of evil. If nothing else, these terrible events on the other side of Europe will make us realise, with Professor Joad, that life’s problems cannot be fixed by well-meaning people over a cup of coffee. As William Butler Yeats realised: “It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.” For we live on a spiritual battlefield and the first lesson to grasp is that in spiritual warfare you need spiritual weapons. So we pray for the people of Ukraine, we pray for their leaders and our leaders. We pray for right judgment, we pray for the Russian people in whose name this violence is unleashed. For such prayer is our first response and not our last resort. Joad renounced his pacifism: to hold that human nature is prey to the power of evil doesn’t necessarily mean we renounce the lawful use of violence, as the apostle Paul explains but in a different context, “for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.” (Romans 13:4) But how Christians should wage war is a subject for another blog. However, at the very least we need to test our own motives and not fall into the trap of responding to Putin the way that Putin himself would. As Christians we are different and we reject any form of vainglory or imperial ambition. We know ourselves only too well.

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