14 April 2022

Collateral damage, part four: Easter 2022

Cover design (original edition) by Kathie McKenna.
PDF edition (2010) available here
Jesus Meets the Daughters of Jerusalem. Source.

His eye is on the collateral damage.

Part two: Noah and the flood.

Part three: shock and awe in Ezekiel.

We're on the eve of Good Friday (Western calendar). I know I ought to be able to say, with Tony Campolo's pastor, "It's Friday, but Sunday's coming," but, my God, this "Good" Friday has been dragging on in a certain region of the world that is especially precious to me, for seven bloody weeks.

And at the moment we cannot even count the bodies of the Ukrainians who have died—who would have been alive today were it not for the genocidal vision of V.V. Putin—and we cannot yet count the bodies of the bewildered young Russian soldiers he sent to their deaths.

Some say that Putin's war will grind on at least until May 9, Victory Day in Russia, the holiday that represents the climax of the civil religion that has formed around the USSR's victory over Nazi Germany. If he can find some reason by that date to claim victory in Ukraine, maybe that will allow at least a temporary pause in his campaign.

But the calendar requires one thing: to get to May 9, you have to pass through Good Friday and Easter. You have to see how the powers and principalities rejected the way of peace, mocked the Son of God and hustled him off to execution, and assumed they had done the right thing. On Easter Sunday, God had the last word. Now in the carnage of this year's Holy Week, we want to see how God will have the last word once again.

Emmanuel Charles McCarthy, author of the devotional booklet I use every year during Holy Week, once said that "History is a butcher's block." Watching and grieving this current episode of butchery, we feel shocked, but not surprised. The Bible, too, contains such episodes of mass mayhem, which is what got me thinking about God's collateral damage. "Oh, Mary, don't you weep" because Pharaoh's army drowned, whether or not they deserved that fate as individual humans. Jeremiah tells us that "a voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." (Here we have kidnapping as well as killing ... just as is alleged in eastern Ukraine.) Were Noah and his family literally the only righteous people left on the face of the earth? (In my post on that story, I note that Noah wasn't always a pillar of righteousness.)

I have found it hard to reconcile these awful scenes with the God who has been so merciful to me. That's why I proposed several different ways to understand them:

  1. These people's sufferings were inconsequential to God in comparison to the value of teaching the rest of us a lesson.
  2. God's biblical chroniclers did not understand God well enough at that point in history to record God's provisions of care to those whose death appears cruel to us.
  3. These incidents did not happen exactly as they're depicted in the Bible; in reality, no innocent people suffered just for the sake of shock and awe.

This is a defective list: I only considered these alternatives in terms of God's intention in causing or permitting the death of innocents "just for the sake of shock and awe." These deaths often resulted from evil decisions by those in power, or by societies refusing to put God at the center. It was not God who sent Pharaoh's army to chase the escaping Israelites, it was Pharaoh. It was not God who decreed the death of young boys after Jesus' birth, it was Herod. Even when those in power claim God's license (Moses condemning the Korahites, including "wives, children, and little ones," all miraculously swallowed up by the earth), we can see the primordial pattern of a leader confronted with rebellion: death to the rebels! Does God really have no other option?

The role of arrogant leadership is not a neat little key that solves biblical mysteries of the death of innocents. Why did God not rescue Jephthah's daughter as God rescued Abraham's son Isaac? Did the boys who taunted Elisha really deserve their gruesome death penalty? However the biblical writers may have understood God's role in such tragedies, there is a common thread that runs through many of them: whenever we humans lose our connection with our Creator, cruelty and mayhem soon ensue. The crucial mission of Jesus and his disciples: restore that connection.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." [Matthew 23:37-39; context.]

Chances are, our tears will still be flowing on Easter 2022. Still, I believe that many of us will be able to look through our tears at the new dawn and say, "Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord," the One who strengthens us to say NO! to the principalities and powers; the One who helps us overcome the lies and cynicism of our age, and restores our fragile ability to hope.

Daniel Treisman's brief primer on Putin's war.

Viewed purely in foreign policy terms, Putin’s invasion makes little sense. There was no prospect of Ukraine joining NATO anytime soon, and Putin could have achieved some of his other objectives, such as securing independence for the self-declared Donbas republics, with a far more limited and less costly intervention. Even if the Russian army were more effective, it would still lack the troops to occupy and subdue a country of more than 40 million people. Poorly planned and with no clear endgame, the whole operation seems almost nihilistic in its violent riskiness.

Seen in light of Putin’s evolving style of rule at home, however, the assault on Ukraine fits into an emerging pattern—one that features anti-Western nationalism; angry, self-justifying speeches; and increasingly open uses of force. Starting about four years ago, and even more insistently since the invasion of Ukraine, Putin has been reshaping the system through which he exercises political power.

This war is tearing apart the Russian-speaking Jewish world. (Thanks to Stu Willcuts for the link.)

Until this war, the cultural differences between the Russian and Ukrainian Jewish diasporas were blurred in many networks of Russian-speaking Jewry in the West. Jews from the FSU have historically identified with the Russian language as a key marker of their identity, and most still do.

Marc Chagall was not painting just any Ukrainian family...

Becky Ankeny on the burden of our sin.

This newest war--replete with cold-blooded torture and killing and desecration and thorough destruction--as all wars are--the rape of one nation by another: where is Jesus in this?

Surely he carries both Russians and Ukrainians, their deeds of loyalty and caprice, their sins of commission and omission. How can anyone in a war obey the two greatest commandments--to love God more than country or anything else, to love the other as oneself.

Jesus shoulders our burdens of sin--our betrayals like that of Judas, our perfidious committees like the cabal of Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, our workmanlike cruelties like that of the Romans--he bears them from the very beginning to the moment of now.

Blues from Ukraine: "Sad Hours" (Little Walter), played by Konstantin Kolesnichenko with this backing track.

1 comment:

Stu said...

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and then do whatever you are able/willing to do".
If we truly "love" as stated our perspectives, thoughts, actions and are directed by the priorities and values resulting.