I do not desire the death of the wicked

I take my title from an Old Testament prophetic judgment oracle in which God is rejecting the religious practices of the “sinners” because it needs to include social justice as well. The truth is that God’s perspective is wider than ours so his justice and timing will look different than ours.

This past week included the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now while a lower scale insurgency supported by Russia had been going on for something like 9 years, this was the point in time that Russian military units openly crossed the border. Any semblance of peace ended.

The response of Christians has been prayer and at least humanitarian assistance (the civilians who are suffering are Ukrainian however one evaluates the invasion). The Pope has repeatedly called for prayer as well as called leaders on both sides to peace. The Patriarch of Constantinople has called for prayer for peace. Those in evangelical, Byzantine Catholic, Ukrainian Catholic, and Ukrainian Orthodox communions have prayed for peace (including many clergy in parishes under the Patriarch of Moscow, both in the Ukraine and in Russia, although more quietly of necessity). The list could go on in Europe and North America and around the world. I personally pray for peace in the Ukraine before every mass and twice within every Divine Liturgy (I am bi-ritual). One cannot say that people are not praying. Still the war goes on as military casualties mount to six figures and more on both sides. Still the preparations for more war go on as President Putin shows no sign of seeking anything less than total victory and so prepares large number of conscripts for future battles and obtains military hardware and design from China, Iran, and North Korea at the least, and also as Ukraine asks for and obtains ever greater amounts of military equipment and supplies from the West. Russia has threatened the use of nuclear weapons – at least obliquely – and the USA has said it would counterstrike as needed. What good have all those prayers done?

It was in this context that I was reminded of the Old Testament prophets. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel prayer for their people who were in a conflict with first Assyria and then Babylon, clearly the underdogs of a foreign aggressor. At least they prayed until they were told to stop praying. God often points out two things: (1) that Israel/Judah needs to repent, that that is his agenda (and the sins of the aggressor are a much lesser theme), and (2) that he will restore and bring peace to Israel/Judah after defeat and will give the aggressor nations their due payback, but will do it in his own way and time. What is clear is that God’s perspective includes both the aggressor nations and those who will eventually defeat them, and the smaller nations that they are gobbling up on every side, and Israel/Judah, in particular their faithfulness to his covenant with them and their witness to the nations. It also includes a divinely appointed ruler who will rule over all nations. It is also clear that the prophets themselves will not live to see their visions fulfilled. Isaiah sees the destruction of Israel and at least one divine defeat of Assyria but tradition has it that he was martyred by a king who would himself be taken captive by Babylon. Ezekiel hears of the fall of Jerusalem, but he dies before the return from Babylon. Jeremiah is forced into exile in Egypt by those involved in a final rebellion of Judahites against Babylon and there he dies. It takes time in our universe for God to work out his grand scheme of setting things right. His faithful ones, e.g. the prophets, trust him even when they see things getting worse rather than better.

As I have been praying I do not present to have received a revelation like the prophets, but certain some impressions that are related to the prophets. My job is to pray for peace, for that is God’s ultimate will, and to pray for the repentance of those perpetrating the evil rather than praying for their death, for that is also the heart of God, and to pray that he in his providence will provide and care for those caught up in the conflict – that it will ultimately be for their good, although I may never see it and they may never understand it. But I need to be prepared inwardly for the possibility that it may get worse before it gets better, that it may or may not be resolved within my lifetime, and it could even become intercontinental even if no missiles are used. The financial exhaustion of the West and/or the splitting of alliances would indeed be devastating, among many possible scenarios. President Putin is not entirely wrong in talking about the corruption of the West, although he may be less than accurate in what the corruption is and certainly out of place in critiquing the West before rooting out wrongs within Russia.

In other words, I need to be inwardly prepared to accept whatever God’s providence allows, for I am not God and do not understand how his grand scheme affects West and East, let alone the rest of the world. I pray for peace and for repentance in both West and East. I pray more for trust in the divine will, active or passive. I pray “your kingdom come, your will be done,” not “my/our will be done.” That is the way of Jesus.

This is a good reflection for Lent. We cannot tell God what to do, but God may well be telling us what to do in our lives (where we have some control) and requiring us to trust him with what he is doing in the wider world.

About Peter H. Davids

I am a retired Director of Clergy Formation for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, a retired professor, and an active Catholic priest (and former Episcopal priest for 34 years), writer, and editor. As a priest available to parishes in the Diocese of Austin, and the resident priest for the Austin Byzantine Catholic Community. I am also a husband, father, and grandfather. My main job at present is Chaplain to the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist in Our Lady of Guadalupe Priory in Georgetown, Texas
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