Hope of a ‘Different World’: Vladimir Putin and the True King
In a recent interview, German chancellor Olaf Scholz expressed the dismay many are feeling over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Notably, Scholz made an observation that has been generally ignored. Referring to the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent rise of freedom in Eastern Europe, the German leader said, “I think too many in the world were hoping that we are living in a different world … different to the experiences of the last century and the centuries before.” He went on to state that Putin had violated the unspoken “agreement that there should be no attempt to change territory, to change borders, to invade the neighbor.”
In 1991, the possibilities seemed endless. The “evil empire” of communist Russia had collapsed. China was still a modestly-sized power. The threat of nuclear war had abated. There were regional wars — the horror in Bosnia, the genocide in Rwanda — but the international rivalry between two massively-armed nuclear powers seemed to have been thrust into the dustbin of history.
But then, human nature intervened.
From time immemorial, man in his arrogance has sought to build a paradise on earth, the kingdom of God without the King Himself. Genesis 11 records the first of man’s corporate efforts to disregard the Creator and Master of all: “Let us build ourselves a city and a tower whose top reaches to the heavens. And let us make a name for ourselves.” Fallen man, whose natural bent toward divine rebellion infuses his whole being, sought to displace God — reaching as far as the heavens, as if we could reach Him on equal terms.
The result: God brought about a confusion of languages and scattering of the people. In an instant, their pride was dissipated into geographic diffusion and linguistic chaos.
So it has been throughout history. The ancient Babylonian king Hammurabi was so taken with his power that he called himself “the Abundance of the People.” Then there was the Mongol conqueror Temüjin, who was given the title “Genghis Khan” — “universal ruler.” Each king of ancient Assyria was called “King of the Universe” and “King of the Four Corners of the World.”
We keep thinking that we can establish eternal kingdoms in a temporal, broken world. These efforts ignore human finitude: We are beings of limited power, knowledge, and wisdom. We remain expelled from the Garden. Yet from Babel to the Roman Empire, the Han Dynasty to “Third Reich,” human pretense has been a constant. So has its judgment.
Yet we don’t learn. Consider some of the events in our own heritage. In the early years of the 20th century, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan negotiated “treaties with 30 different signatories that provided for a ‘cooling off’ period during disputes to allow time for arbitration to prevent war.” The last of these was concluded in 1914. In August of that same year, the First World War began. Ironically and tragically, these “cooling off” periods could also give rival nations more time to build-up their armaments.
A few years later, Woodrow Wilson proposed that the United States enter the League of Nations in order to induce God’s kingdom on earth. As historian Leroy G. Dorsey notes, Wilson “visualized an almost ideal state of American divinity.” Thankfully, the U.S. Senate rejected Wilson’s utopian foolishness. Yet we were instrumental in the founding of the United Nations, which has hardly proven effective in stopping international conflict and has often abetted great evil.
We cannot escape the realities of human fallenness and divine sovereignty. As the writer Robert Riskin observed many years ago, “The world’s been shaved by a drunken barber.” Human nature was not transformed when the Berlin Wall was torn down. The bitter ambitions of Vladimir Putin are only the latest imitation of our first parents’ acceptance of Satan’s lie: “You shall be like God.”
Nor can we escape the government of the Most High, Who “rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men” (Daniel 4:17). It is this same God of Whom David wrote: “But you, O Lord, laugh at them; You hold all the nations in derision” (Psalm 59:8).
There is nothing wrong with reasonable and verifiable efforts to constrain the creation and use of the weapons of war. Also, Christians should be models of personal peace-making and reconciliation. But there is everything wrong in thinking that the all-permeating stain of sin can be eradicated by a treaty or a political victory, however sweeping it might seem.
That stain can be cleansed only by blood — blood not spilled on a field of conquest but on a cross. The life of the Shepherd for the life of His sheep, all who call on Him alone for forgiveness and new life.
Chancellor Scholz is right: Even in the post-Soviet era, the hope that we are living in a “different world” is a false one. But we can look with confident joy to the day when the God of the universe will create “a new heaven and a new earth” when the redeemed “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will stand “before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white (pure) robes” (Revelation 21:1, 7:9).
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.