Why Does Ukraine Surprise Us?

The Cold War ended over thirty years ago, making a Russian invasion of another, sovereign nation unthinkable.  And yet, once again we are watching the Hell of war unfold before our eyes.  The images coming out of Ukraine are heartbreaking.  In a rare act of unity and solidarity, the entire world is justifiably horrified and outraged.  But the entire world is also shocked, perplexed at how such an unprovoked, naked act of aggression could be happening in 2022. 

But we really shouldn’t be shocked.  The only reason we are is because of our collective naivete about human nature.  We believe people are basically good.  With enough education, enlightenment, evolution, we believe the better angels of our nature will naturally take over.  With enough encouragement, exhortation, nurturing, we believe our intrinsic human goodness will naturally emerge.  With enough of the right messaging, with enough songs inspiring us to “imagine” a world where everyone can “just give peace a chance”, getting us to believe that “all you need is love”, we believe that we naturally will be able to live in peace.  And since this messaging has been with us for decades--in case you didn’t catch the reference to the Beatles--we are convinced that in 2022 we are closer to peace than ever before. 

That’s why we are so shocked by Russia’s despicable invasion of Ukraine.  But one look at history reveals that things like this have continued to happen all along.  Relentlessly.  With pretty much the same frequency and consistency as ever before.  So we really shouldn’t be so shocked.  Outraged?  Certainly.  Surprised?  Not at all.

I was watching Meet the Press two Sundays ago.  Toward the end of the show, they had their roundtable discussion.  As usual, four guest pundits representing different perspectives weighed in.  Initially, they were united in being pleasantly surprised by Ukraine’s ability to resist a rapid, all-out Russian take over, at least for now.  And they were united in their delight that the world community has responded so strongly in condemnation of Russia, supporting Ukraine in ways that have far exceeded all expectation. 

But the last topic they discussed, which, because of how distracted I was at what ensued, I frankly can’t remember, caused them to begin hurling accusations and not-so-veiled slurs at one another, impugning one another’s motives and integrity.  To be sure, the discussions on this show often get heated.  But usually, they’re civil.  However, this one got ugly.  Really ugly.  And in the process, what became so painfully obvious, not to mention bitterly ironic, was that, even as these four pundits were roundly condemning Russia for upsetting the peace, they could not keep the peace among themselves.  The same tendency toward division playing itself out in Russia was vividly at work among these panelists.

In fact, the group most responsible for giving us our most beloved “peace” songs couldn’t find peace with each other.  The Beatles had a bitter break up.  In an angry letter John Lennon wrote to Paul McCartney, he said that, in the final analysis, the Beatles were “just as big [jerks] as anyone else.” (Brant Hansen, The Truth About Us, p. 108)

As Brant Hansen has so eloquently outlined in his wonderful new book by the same title, “The Truth About Us” is that we wholeheartedly but deludedly believe that we are far better than we actually are.  As recent research in Social Psychology and Cognitive Science makes abundantly clear, research that includes several Nobel Prize winners, we are totally deluded about how good we are.  And in a massive way.  We are far more selfish, deceptive, and manipulative than we honestly think we are.  Despite our optimistic and glowing self-assessments, our words and deeds tell a different story.  According to the latest research, we aren’t basically good.  Far from it.  We are basically self-absorbed, but are expert at justifying and rationalizing our behavior so as to perpetuate our delusion.    

Christian faith, uniquely, has always maintained that this is the truth about us.  But this has often been misinterpreted to mean that Christianity believes we aren’t capable of any real good and should perpetually feel ashamed and worthless.  In truth, what Christianity actually says is that we have immense, even immeasurable worth--made in the image of God, we possess an intrinsic value that is eternal in scope.  In truth, Christianity believes that humans are capable of great good, the most beautiful deeds of heroic, sacrificial love.  But also in truth, way before the latest scientific research has confirmed it, Christianity has always maintained that there is something fundamentally flawed and broken in human nature, something basically self-absorbed and self-deceived about us. 

This isn’t meant to make us feel bad about ourselves or pessimistic about humanity.  It is simply meant to be realistic, honest about where we find ourselves--Because the only way to treat and cure a disease is to accurately diagnose it.  Christianity insists that this is the truth about us because the only way to get beyond the brokenness of the human condition is to honestly acknowledge its source. 

Christianity insists that this is the truth about us because, once we acknowledge it, Christ can provide the cure.  Once we honestly admit our need for Him, He saves us.  He reconciles us to Himself and gives us peace with God.  And with this peace, the only true and lasting peace, comes a newfound ability to make peace with others.  This transformation of the human heart is our world’s best hope--only real hope--for true and lasting peace.

I pray that the people of Ukraine--and Russia--find peace.  And quickly.  But, most of all, I pray that we will all find the peace of Christ, and that, as His peace reigns in our hearts, we will all find true and lasting peace with one another.         

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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