By: Stephen McAlpine
People are planting flowers in Kyiv. Spring is coming. In the midst of all the chaos, horror and death that the Russian invasion has inflicted on Kyiv, there is something beautiful about people planting flowers in wartorn Kyiv.
As The Times reports, in the light of the Russian withdrawal from the city, the city’s mayor, former world heavyweight boxing champion, Vitaly Klitschko declared:
“The municipal services have started spring cleaning. Parks, green areas are being arranged and trees and flowers are being planted.”
The war isn’t finished of course. Far from it. Half of the city’s population is still missing, some dead, many in other countries. The devastation and pain will continue for some time yet.
But the normal process of planting seedlings in the flowerbeds, much the same as in my suburb on a seasonal basis, has recommenced. Spring in the air. Easter Resurrection in the air.
Planting flowers in wartime? It could be construed as denial. It could be misdiagnosed as futility or nihilism. Or it could be seen for what it is: Hope sprouting from the ground again.
And it’s a lesson too. A lesson for so many things, but a lesson, I think, for the church. I’ve written much about the straitened times that the church of God finds itself in in the West, either due to its own folly, or because of the turn against the Gospel in the hard secular age. There is much to be sober about. And let’s not get too shy about calling the Christian life a battle, or the spiritual work of the church a warfare, for the sake of not offending, or for fear of being labelled seditious. If we were to jettison that language we’d have to cut large swathes out of the New Testament documents.
But in the midst of that, let’s remember the better story, the truer narrative of human flourishing, the light to the world, salt of the earth, shining like stars in the dark, sorta stuff that the New Testament speaks of as well. Let’s not forget the new citizens of a heavenly kingdom, the people who have a hope beyond the hope of this age.
In other words, the church gets to plant flowers in wartime. We have a hope that what springs from the ground in our midst, and as we do good to the world and in the world, will not be wasted. Our Resurrection Day is coming. Not Easter Sunday, that was the proto-type, the first-fruits springing from the ground, of which our resurrection will be the full planter bed, blossoming into eternity.
And that should encourage us as we approach what I believe could well be darker and harsher times ahead, both geo-politically and for the church.
The always brilliant Anglican rector and UK journalist Giles Fraser, pointed out recently in UnHerd, that in response to the Ukraine war, the Christian hope leaves the humanist hope quite literally for dead. Humanists have no way of explaining evil away, other than it being a good opportunity for humanity to glint through the darkest body count.
And while I think that humanists could look at the flower-planting in Kyiv and say “See? There’s humanity in all its glory!”, they are unable to counter that glory with any sense of the true horror of humanity that makes such a photograph as the one I posted above, truly memorable.
After all, up until February this year, would a photograph of a council worker in Kiev (because that’s what you called “Kyiv” until reality took a bite of you all of five minutes ago), have even crossed your mind as something worthy of such attention? It took the slaughter of thousands for you to be able to celebrate humans in their true state? Seriously?
The British Humanist Association offers a downloadable primer on humanism and suffering. They conclude: “For humanists then, the answer to the question why bad things happen is simply, because they do: that is just the way the world is.” In other words, shit happens. What I find most objectionable about all this is not the atheistic cosmology so much as the kind of detached emotional shrug that accompanies it. A world view that has become intellectually insulated from a crisis of faith is not one that has properly exposed itself to the horrors of the world.
For Giles, the answer is the cross. He goes on to say:
…when Christians talk of suffering, they are not so interested in trying to reconcile the all-powerful, good God plus suffering “problem” — because people being murdered by Russian bombs isn’t first and foremost an intellectual “problem”. It is a crisis, a collapse of faith, a desolation. The cross is where all of that is carried, and — for Christians – overcome. Humanists will scoff that this doesn’t answer the question, and they are right. For Christians, the “problem of evil” is a very different kind of question. To call it a problem is too cold, too detached.
Read the whole essay. It’s worth it. Giles and I won’t agree with everything about the Christian faith, but gosh, he nails the big stuff so well. The church can celebrate the planting of flowers in Kyiv, not because, as Fraser observed, the horror of humanity is being overlooked, but because the horror of humanity has been overcome – at the cross.
And keep planting flowers in wartime.
Article supplied with thanks to Stephen McAlpine
About the Author: Stephen has been reading, writing and reflecting ever since he can remember. He is the lead pastor of Providence Church Midland, and in his writing dabbles in a number of fields, notably theology and culture. Stephen and his family live in Perth’s eastern suburbs, where his wife Jill runs a clinical psychology practice.