My dear friends and family,
God is good. God can be trusted.
Last night, I watched the news. I saw people in distress, people dying, people grieving a significant loss. I saw people, neighbours, now facing each other as enemies. I listened as journalists described the massive convoy of Russian vehicles winding its way toward and into the northern regions of Ukraine. I heard ominous predictions of a significant intensification of violence against Ukraine. And I listened as some Canadians decided to go to Ukraine to fight because it was the one thing they could imagine doing to make some sort of difference.
I found myself understanding the desire to fight. I know how easy it is to meet aggression with aggression. Isn’t that just a principle of physics – stop a force by meeting it with an equal and opposite force? And then I was reminded, by God, of a story. A story of another way. A remarkable story, really, of how God, in partnership with human beings, turns an enemy into neighbours and sends them away in peace.
In 2 Kings 6, Syria has attacked Israel, and the situation looks dire. Elisha is in Dothan, where the king of Syria finds him and surrounds the city, intent on eliminating the prophet. Elisha’s side-kick, Gehazi, wakes up in the morning to see the immense might of the Syrians surrounding the city, and he despairs for his life. But Elisha knows and sees that God is greater, and he asks God to let Gehazi see. And when Gehazi sees that God has surrounded the Syrian army, well, we don’t know, but I can imagine the sight was overwhelming.
It’s what happens next that is even more amazing than that. As the army approaches the city to storm it, Elisha prays to God that the army will be struck blind. And they are. And then a most remarkable thing happens. Elisha leads the blind Syrian army away from Dothan to Samaria (the text says he led “them”, and doesn’t say that only the leaders were led to Samaria, so I imagine that there are a lot of blind Syrians suddenly clogging the streets of the city, not knowing where they are).
Stop for a moment to consider this: it is a brutal time in Israel’s history. There is a lot of killing and dying described in the chapters before and after this story. In the middle of it all, Elisha chooses a different path, and God works with Elisha. Once inside the city, Elisha asks God that the Syrian enemies be allowed to see. And then this happens (2 Kings 6):
The Lord opened their eyes, and they saw that they were in the middle of Samaria. 21 When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, “Should I strike them down, my master?” 22 He replied, “Do not strike them down! You did not capture them with your sword or bow, so what gives you the right to strike them down? Give them some food and water, so they can eat and drink and then go back to their master.” 23 So he threw a big banquet for them and they ate and drank. Then he sent them back to their master. After that no Syrian raiding parties again invaded the land of Israel.
I love this story. It is such a hopeful episode in an otherwise fraught and discouraging saga of Israel’s further wanderings in a desert of lost identity. And now I see that it is a picture of what we can pray for. And this is why I am writing to you. To invite you to join me to pray for another way.
Clearly, if the advancing armies are to be stopped, it will take either an equal and opposing military force (which will result in a lot more dying, grief, hatred, and despair) or something outside the conventional ideas of a good outcome. Perhaps it will take a banquet. And so I am asking you to pray with me, not out of fear but with genuine love and compassion for others, that God will (perhaps metaphorically speaking) make the Russians blind. That God will disable their equipment. That God will render impotent their weapons. That all will become quiet. And that, perhaps most importantly, God will place in their way people who will throw them a banquet, and send them back to their master. Because, while I want the killing and wounding to stop, I also want to love my enemies so that my enemies are once again my neighbours. I’d like that for Russians and Ukrainians too.
Last night, as I watched the news, I found myself praying for just this kind of thing to happen. In the midst of that praying, while I watched the news, I felt compelled to invite others to join me.
So, I ask you to join me in something rather unconventional: to pray for our neighbours (the Russian president, the Russian military) by asking that God get in their way, not to destroy or even to harm them, but rather to disrupt their advances, to stop them in their tracks, and then to show them they are loved by throwing a banquet for them (I’m suddenly struck with the realization that God has, on more than one occasion, interrupted a mission of aggression with blindness). God, together with people near and far, willing to take the risk of love, can do all of this. Praying in this way, I think, is the most important effort we can make when all else seems so useless when the threat of widespread war is a real possibility when we have come to the limits of our own wits.
I know that God is not a vending machine, where we put in our coins, push a button, and get the thing we want. But I also know that God is capable of so much more than we can possibly imagine. I know that God loves the world God made. And I also know that Jesus has invited us to ask God for the things we need. That is why I think praying in this way is the better alternative to perpetuating the violence, to hatred. God willing, something good will come from our prayers. One day, I hope, Russians, Ukrainians, Canadians, Germans, Swiss, Ghanaians, Americans – all will be transformed and enemies will once again be neighbours, and the Russians, like the Syrian army in 2 Kings, will go home knowing they are loved. What an amazing vision to keep in front of us as we pray for peace.
Thanks for reading (if you got this far). If you are inspired, please extend this invitation to others you know. Trust that God is paying attention and that God, who is love, will be thrilled that we would ask God to lead us in such a daring and unconventional mission.
I’m off to work, actively waiting in hope for the renewed world God has promised. Grace and peace be yours for this day.
James Klassen attends Bakerview MB Church in Abbotsford, BC. He is a graduate of MBBC and works in Langley, BC in the roofing industry. James and his wife Lois have three adult children.
Thank you James for this vision and call to pray! Years ago I read the following by Dean Sherman, founder of YWAM: “The gift that Mennonite teaching ought to be to the whole body of Christ… that I believe was a revelation to people like Mennonites .. Is that aggression (wars, persecution, etc.) is not to be performed in the human realm. But, you see, if we don’t fight the devil, if we don’t get aggressive in the spirit realm, then we’re going to end up being aggressive towards people around us. What we need to hear is that this aggression is not allowable on the human realm, but that it is allowable (should we say absolutely necessary) on the spirit plane.”
I was also deeply moved by Elizabeth May’s response to President Zelensky. You can see it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgAGyopOMmg