When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them? (Dt 20:19)
6 April 2022
The entire world has been bombarded with images from the war in Ukraine for the last two months. This flood of pictures reached a climax for me over the last few days as the Russian army retreated from areas north of Kyiv, and returning Ukrainian troops discovered and broadcast evidence of massive atrocities against civilians. We don’t need to repeat these stories – you have all seen and read them yourselves.
And there are abandoned pets, and animals trapped in zoos that are being bombed alongside apartment complexes, schools and hospitals. We can only imagine the effects of the war on God’s wild creatures as explosives rip apart habitats, the air fills with poison fumes, and rivers carry noxious chemicals from battle scenes into the rest of the landscape. Nor can we forget the very real possibility of even greater catastrophe if chemical or biological weapons were deployed or one of the many nuclear power plants in the region was damaged or destroyed.
War – any war – certainly makes it clear that God’s creation suffers because of human sin:
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. [Romans 8:20-22]
Creation suffers much from humans and human activity even outside of war: our peacetime consumerism is devastating to plants and animals over time, and human-caused climate change really amounts to a declaration of war against all of God’s creation around the world. But intense, ‘hot’ wars like those in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen and so many other places show clearly what we humans, charged to care for God’s creation, are capable of doing in our sin.
How should we respond to such a situation? How does one “do creation care” in a war zone? There are no easy answers, and I am very aware of how limited my perspective is, sitting comfortably in my office with no fear of bombs outside my window. But perhaps there are some biblical principles that we can start with:
Using these principles, may I suggest the following steps?
- God loves his creation (including, but not only, people). Even in war he expects us to exert care and restraint on behalf of his creatures. (Even fruit trees – see Deuteronomy 20:19 above)
- Where God’s creation is suffering, God has ordained that humans – especially Christians – will be agents of restoration and healing (Romans 8:19, above: “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.”
- It is also true, though, that when the war ends and it is time for healing to begin, healing will come to people from God’s creation. Remember the tree of life in Revelation, whose leaves are “for the healing of the nations.” (Rev. 22:2)
- Prayers of repentance for our sins against God’s creation. We are not those dropping the bombs, but in some sense our collective sin is responsible for this crisis, and like Daniel (Daniel 9) it is appropriate for all of us to ask God’s forgiveness, not to mention the wider devastation of creation for which we are much more directly responsible.
- Without in any way reducing our response to human suffering, we need to be ready to begin healing the wounds of creation whenever a war comes to an end, whether Ukraine, Syria or any where else in the world.
- When we minister to those traumatized and damaged by conflict, we will find that the best source of healing will be God’s creation; paradoxically it may turn out that allowing and encouraging war victims to participate in creation restoration efforts is the best medicine available.
May God bless each of you with his peace and with the power, protection and healing of his presence, whether you find yourself in a garden or a bomb shelter. And may God hear the prayers of his people.
Ed Brown for the LWCCN Team
Below: Concerned neighbors feeding abandoned pets through holes punched in apartment walls; and a woman who brought many handicapped animals to the border for evacuation.