By Mike Ruffin
I know how I am supposed to act if a conflict develops between me and another person. Jesus laid it out for me. I am supposed to pray for my enemy. I am supposed to turn the other cheek. I am supposed to love even those who would do me harm. I am supposed to show mercy even to those who don’t appreciate or even recognize that I am doing so.
Of course, Jesus didn’t leave such instructions for just me. He left them for all his followers. His words are right there in the New Testament Gospels for all of us to read. They are right there for all of us to follow.
They are also right there for us to ignore if we choose to do so. But I can’t understand Christians who choose to do so.
Jesus after all not only spoke such words—he lived them as well. He gave his life away until he finally died on the cross. And as he was being crucified, he asked God to forgive his executioners. Jesus told us how to live, but he also showed us how to live.
I’m not saying that it is easy to live in the ways Jesus told us and showed us we should live. It is in fact challenging. Such living isn’t our default setting. Our default setting is to hate our enemies, to hold grudges, and to seek revenge. But I believe that we who follow Jesus can always be growing toward becoming people whose primary impulse is to love our enemies, to pray for those who misuse us, and to seek reconciliation. I believe the world would be a better place if more of us were constantly growing in those directions.
I suspect that everyone who takes their following of Jesus seriously struggles to live in the ways Jesus told us to live. I can’t imagine what it would be like to try to live in such ways if you were the leader of a nation. On the one hand, a Christian who is President of the United States owes their ultimate allegiance to Jesus, just as any other Christian does. On the other hand, the President must deal as effectively as possible with the geopolitical realities of the world.
This brings me to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I dare say that few of us would be satisfied if our President took the stance that the Ukrainian people should just surrender and accept Russian occupation. (I recognize that there are some Americans who seem to think that the Russian leader can do whatever he wants, but it seems to me that their position toward him and toward certain other leaders reflects an unfortunate attraction to authoritarianism.) Sometimes a bully must be resisted—especially if that bully’s actions threaten not only the lives of many innocent people, but the world’s stability as well. I hope that the Ukrainian people’s resistance combined with internationally imposed economic sanctions will be enough to stop the bully.
Once things get to the point they have in Ukraine, it is impossible for our nation and other nations not to act. We have to hope that the actions taken will be effective. But there is something that we who are Christians can do that goes beyond hoping. We can commit to living the ways that Jesus told us to live and showed us how to live. We are responsible for living in those ways in our own situations and relationships. If we will, maybe such ways of treating people will spread.
And if they spread far enough, maybe one of these days, they’ll stop some other conflict from erupting and another invasion from happening.
Who knows what might happen if enough of us who say we follow the Prince of Peace actually do so in the ways we think about, respond to, and treat other people—even those who oppose us?