There’s a line in the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastes which reads simply, “There is nothing new under the sun.” It feels decidedly apt to me today as I listen to the news of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. I have an unavoidable sense of déjà vu about current NATO/Russian relations. My Saturday television diet in the early 1980s included the American shows Knight Rider, the A-Team and Airwolf. In the latter, I recall the villains were almost always communists. I spent my early teenage years listening to songs like Ultravox’s “Dancing with tears in my eyes”, Genesis’ “Land of Confusion” and Sting’s very direct, “Russians”. Talk of the Four-Minute Warning was common (four minutes being the time it would take for a nuclear missile launched from Russia to strike targets in the UK). We all got on with life, of course, but it did feel ever so slightly precarious. When the Berlin wall came down in 1989, it seemed like the Cold War had come to an end, and the world felt a bit more secure. And so it has been for much of the last three decades.
But over recent years, Vladimir Putin seems to have changed things. The death, by polonium poisoning, of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 raised uncomfortable questions in the west. The attempted Novichok poisoning in 2018 of Sergei and Yulia Skripal has perhaps confirmed suspicions that President Putin is extremely keen to eliminate his critics. On a broader scale, the number of sonic booms we are experiencing is increasing as RAF fighter jets are scrambled more and more frequently to intercept Russian aircraft which have strayed into our air space. With the annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the threats of turning off Europe’s gas supply, Putin has seriously unsettled diplomatic relations and economic stability. And, of course, we cannot forget that Russian cyber-interference has been identified as possibly influencing recent votes in Europe and the US. As to what Mr Putin intends by positioning thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine, presumably only he knows, but the uncertainty this has caused globally has been very destructive.
There can be no doubt about it: relationships between east and west have grown decidedly frosty again. As Sting wrote, “Mr Khrushchev said, ‘We will bury you!’” Recent hints from Russia that nuclear weapons would be trained on Europe make us say once again, with Sting, “I hope the Russians love their children, too.” We have been here before.
There is nothing new under the sun. Despite the extraordinary propensity of the human heart to convince itself that things are “getting better all the time” (to quote the Beatles), we do seem to be going round in circles. There will always be people who prey on the weak and people who use their money, power and fame for selfish gain or with malicious intent. And sometimes, those people will be us, as our desires for ease and happiness in our own lives come into conflict with the ideals and aspirations of others. What we need is for someone of perfect integrity, perfect wisdom and perfect love to meet us in our cycle of trouble under the sun and bring us both justice against our oppressors and mercy for those times when we have inflicted pain on others. We need someone from above the sun – a heavenly saviour – to bring us life in a world dominated by death and the fear of death.
This spring, may you know the hope of new life that God gives us in Jesus.