By Mike Soika
The war in Ukraine has caused many of us to struggle with the Quaker Peace Testimony. Below, I share some of the questions that arose in my own discernment, the act of which brought a sense of peace with where I have landed on the Quaker Peace Testimony.
Is God active in the world – performing miracles – in answer to human prayers? With this theology, one may be able to support the Peace Testimony at all cost. If we pray earnestly enough, and often enough, and in community with as many people as possible, will the Divine answer our prayers and convert the heart of Vladimir Putin or his soldiers and generals in the field to halt the war? Is prayer and the rock solid belief in prayer the answer to this carnage? Do we believe that Ukrainian mothers and fathers and children and soldiers and clergy are already praying fervently – hour upon hour – day upon day? Do we believe that others around the world are also praying with heartfelt intent to petition God to end the war?
I suppose the basic question is, why does the Divine need our prayers and petitions in order to act? In fact, Jesus tells us “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.…” (Matthew 6:7-8)
I suspect there is no scarcity of prayers, and that God isn’t in need of guidance from us in order to know what to do. Which led me to the next set of questions.
Is God’s plan somehow unfolding with Russian aggression against the Ukrainian people? We hear some version of this tenet often in sayings like: “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” or “The Divine has a plan and who are we to question it,” or “God’s plan will unfold eventually, we must remain prayerful and patient,” or “There is certainly evil in the world because of mankind’s dark impulses and God-given free will, but goodness and light will overcome.”
If the Russian invasion of Ukraine is somehow the result of God’s plan, then perhaps yes, I could stand firmly with the Peace Testimony, knowing that the Spirit will prevail.
I suppose on a macro level one can argue for the idea of “God’s Plan” but to me it seems cruel on the micro level. For example – why does the Divine choose some children to die from leukemia while others survive? Same for every other cancer victim and cancer survivor. Why do some people walk away from a car accident while others die? Why do some people die from a bombing attack while others survive? Is God picking sides? Are those who died somehow unworthy of God’s love and protections? Are they paying for the sins of their fathers – from generations long gone?
What if God is not directly active in the world? I had a “dark night of the soul” moment a short while back when I came to the realization that it is we who must choose the Divine in order to bring forth the kingdom of God on earth.
We are already chosen. The Spirit is already within each of us, but that’s the full stop of it all, that’s where everything ends – according to my spirituality. The spirit of the Divine is infused into every molecule throughout the cosmos – from the furthest galaxy to the microbes under out feet. And that spirit is emanating love. That spirit is love, a love that each individual can choose to believe in and embrace or to ignore.
For me, the freedom to ignore the spirit of God is how we end up with evil in the world. It is how we end up with greed and murder and war. Some choose to not embrace the spirit of God within, and to act on the impulses of the ego. The spirit hasn’t gone away – it is just drowned out by the self-driven cravings for possessions, money, prestige and power. For some, the siren call of the realm is louder than the soft whisper of the inward teacher quietly calling each of us to manifest God’s love.
For those of us whose faith is formed by an understanding that the spirit of the Divine is already present but, that each of us is free to embrace or ignore it , then helping Ukraine to arm itself in defense of an aggressor intent on violence, destruction, and domination makes sense.
We don’t need to pray for God to be present because the spirit of God emanates throughout the cosmos, softly exhorting each of us to manifest love. We cannot wait for the Divine to intervene into the matters of the world because God is already doing so, but only through our actions. No miracles will be forthcoming other than the ones we create on our own.
There is certainly “that of God” flowing freely through us all, including both the Russians and the Ukrainians. Some choose to embrace that love while others choose to ignore it in favor of amassing worldly gains. Some believe it is an act of love to recognize the Spirit within each person and thus to oppose all acts of war. Others – like me – believe that it is a greater act of love to aid those who are fighting – in real time – to protect the innocent. It is difficult for me to support the idea of treating the aggressors and their victims alike. I will always come down on the side of the victims. I can’t fathom loving someone so much that I am prepared to relegate them to slaughter rather than supporting them to take up arms and defend themselves.