Thinking Theologically about the Russia-Ukraine War

The entire world is watching the crisis unfold in Ukraine. The horrors of war come to us via TV and the mass media 24/7. We hear reports from the field, see videos of the action, and listen to pundits interpret the war. How should we Christians think about this war from a theological perspective? Here are a few starters for theological reflection.

One key question for every war is simply this: Is this a just war? Going back to Aquinas, theologians and ethicists have identified certain criteria for a just war. Does it have a just cause, being strictly a defensive war? Is it a last resort? Is the goal a just peace? Are the costs and measures being taken appropriate? Is it authorized by a recognized authority? When evaluated by these criteria, the conclusion is about as obvious as is possible when considering the messiness of war. Russia’s war against Ukraine is most certainly not a just war.

The adage is true: Absolute power corrupts absolutely. That was precisely the reasoning behind God’s dividing humanity into many tongues and nations at the Tower of Babel. The Creator saw the unbridled arrogance of humanity and said: “‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD [Yahweh] scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city” (Gn11:6–8, NASB). Given the potential for monstrous evil of all sinners working together in unity on one project, the Creator dispersed them into different lands and with different languages. That way the power would be divided. Given original sin, the idea of one global government is a bad idea. Nations should function as checks-and-balances toward each other.

Every war is a reminder of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In Revelation 6 John sees four horses with their horsemen: a white horse with a horseman that represents conquering tyranny; a red horse with a horseman that represents war; a black horse with a horseman that represents famine; and a pale horse with a horseman that represents death. But the victorious Lamb is the Lord over all, the crucified, risen, and exalted Lord who reigns over human history and the four horsemen, and all to the ultimate benefit of his church. The war in eastern Europe shows us again the evils of war.

Yet we take confidence in the exaltation of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords. And we pray: Lord Jesus, you rule over all things. Restrain the forces of tyranny, war, famine, and death. Establish external peace in eastern Europe and Russia. Promote civil righteousness in every nation. Open up paths for your blessed gospel to spread into every land and to every people. For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Those are some initial thoughts. What thoughts do you have?

Paul R. Raabe

Dr. Paul Raabe is a professor emeritus at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

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6 Comments

  1. Robert March 2, 2022
    Reply

    Wars and rumors of wars. A tyrant thinks he will decide the borders of nations. We’ve seen this before. I’m not so sure this tyrant will have the support of his people for a long time.
    His people and his soldiers in this generation have been exposed to many alternatives in their lifetimes, unlike their ancestors. How long will they tolerate the tyrant’s cause of pain? Father God may your word go forth in Jesus Christ in Ukraine, Russia, and neighboring countries to gain peace and comfort and salvation for those affected!

  2. Rick Strickert March 3, 2022
    Reply

    Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava has ordered the removal of all Russian flags displayed at Miami International Airport} “effectively immediately.”

    Given Rev. Dr. Paul Raabe’s statement in his Concordia Theology article — “Russia’s war against Ukraine is most certainly not a just war” — one wonders whether the Russian flag should be removed from the LCMS International Center in Kirkwood, MO. Of course, following the bioterrorist release of the ChiCom virus on the world, is there any reason to have the Chinese flag (next to it) up there as well?

    (www dot lcms dot org/image/about-us/tour/Web-Tour-Banner-4-1280×560.jpg)

  3. Matt March 4, 2022
    Reply

    I appreciate the reminder of the connection to the horsemen of Revelation 6, and that we pray that these would be restrained. May our ultimate prayer also be the words of St. John, “Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.”

  4. Paul Raabe March 8, 2022
    Reply

    Churches around the world should condemn the Russian war against Ukraine, including the Russian Orthodox church.
    Russian Christians should realize that this war is not a just war.

  5. Brent McGuire March 20, 2022
    Reply

    I very much appreciated the prayer at the end of Dr. Raabe’s post. However, I struggle to see the point in gestures like removing the Russian flag from the International Center or even of condemning the war from our pulpits. Why such conspicuous measures for this particular conflict? Did our own churches condemn the American bombing of Serbia in the late 90s? Our invasions of Iraq? Our invasion of Afghanistan? Our now seven years of assisting Saudi Arabia in bombing and starving the people of Yemen? If the presence of the flag signifies approval of that country’s unjust wars, why is the American flag still among the flags at the International Center? For that matter, why the Ukrainian flag? Or did you not know about its bombing campaign against Russian-majority regions since 2014? (From both Ukrainian and Russian members and friends, I have discovered that there is more to this conflict than Sean Hannity and Brian Stelter have been telling me.) Perhaps a more serious and more appropriate thing for Christians to do would be to turn off their idiot boxes; reach out to flesh-and-blood Christians, whether Ukrainian or Russian or otherwise; help as best they can; and pray for peace, perhaps using the words Dr. Raabe gives at the end of his post. But enough already with the hypocritical calls for public renunciations and the flag removals and the banning of Russian opera singers and the burning of Russian books and the pouring out of Russian vodka and the litmus tests for professional athletes. What next? The banning of Russian cats from international competitions?

  6. Mark J Schreiber March 22, 2022
    Reply

    Nowhere in Dr. Raabe’s comments does he urge removal of the Russian flag from the IC so I conclude that Brent’s comments are a springboard reference from Rick’s comments above leading Brent to speak out regarding Russia’s unjust war against Ukraine, yet Brent’s logic leaves me cold. I conclude from his cynical analysis that such a thing as a just war cause could not possibly exist because his trenchant insights into previous American wars reveals seemingly unjust behaviors of the American cause on numerous occasions, according to his logic. If the decision of a nation whether or not to defend one’s self is predicated on its own honest history of its wrongs, then living in a universal world of sinners and sinful nations, such as we do, no nation would have any moral right in the present moment to defend home, property and family because the nation’s past history negated that right. If I accept such logic, then the immoral bully-nation would rampage the earth and reign supreme. The history of war in every nation demonstrates brutal examples of unjust behaviors and war crimes in the midst of any so-called just war. Should we conclude that America’s involvement in WWII was completely evil because of the bombing of Dresden in ’45 or the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima were immoral, as some assert? Should all of our honorable men and women who fought in Vietnam to stop the advance of communism be condemned because of the My Lai massacre? Regarding the “invasion” of Iraq, if you were the US President at the time and your best intelligence informed you that Hussein had his trigger finger on nukes aimed at the US, what would you do? Absorb a first strike, watch millions of innocent Americans die and then retaliate? Or would you strike first in order to save and defend as many American lives as possible? It’s so easy to look back and call the leaders of that day who were calling the shots idiots and misguided because of our great erudition and supposed clear-headedness today. We may soon be facing the same God-awful choice in a similar scenario under Putin. God forbid. The intelligence capabilities of any nation are not infallible. Let’s make it personal. What would you do, if you were Ukrainian and the Russian army descended upon your neighborhood, plundering and murdering your neighbors and then advanced on your home and family? Do you have a right to self-defense? Would you kill or be killed in order to save your life and your family’s? More than that, would God approve of your behavior to strike back with force and violence or would His will be simply to surrender and pray for your enemies while you watch the enemy destroy your family and your home? Are not tens of thousands of Ukrainians now facing the exact same choice? Who will stop the bully on the block and his naked aggression? Current demographic surveys of Ukraine indicate that 80% of its citizenry claims to be Christian; therefore, we have Christian men in uniform under a legitimate government authority engaged in lawful killing in a just cause war. Yes, Russia’s war is an unjust war. It is naked aggression that must be stopped today by the legitimate governments of the world who each still carry the power of the sword to keep the peace and to check the aggression of the bully. Repentance is my prayer for Russia’s Putin that God would grant him true repentance in his murderous leadership; repentance that the Russian army convicted by their conscience would throw down their arms and stop their atrocious war crimes against unarmed civilians, and if God does not grant this that the Ukrainians would be granted the miracle of victory even as God gave David over Goliath. We all belong to the human race. We are bound by a moral contract with humanity to save human life and not destroy it. This is the justness and righteousness of this cause now in the present moment.

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