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Making sense of warring leaders both made in God’s image

I wrote this reflection on March 15, the “Ides of March.” The day is best known as the day that Roman senators assassinated Julius Caesar for seeking dictatorship over their republic. March 15 is also a day before “Purim.” This is when Jews commemorate their deliverance from annihilation in ancient Persia, a story told in the Megillah (scroll) of Esther. These dates are significant, but not planned. At least not on my part, as I felt led to reflect theologically on the stark contrast between the presidents of Russia and Ukraine.*

Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Photo by President.gov.ua

Along with many people over recent weeks, I have been greatly inspired by Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Even before becoming president, he had numerous fans as a highly successful and charming actor, comedian and — yes — winner of the Ukrainian version of “Dancing with the Stars”! (These clips will melt your heart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlJywp7E3Gw ). When he became president, however, expectations of his abilities in this new role were fairly low. 

Ironically, he once acted in an eerily prescient sitcom called “Servant of the People.” In this he played a high school teacher who rails against corruption. And, after a student’s film of him goes viral, ends up elected president! Then he actually did become president! I don’t know if he’s still playing a role, acting “as if” he has the power of the Holy Spirit with him. I do know that he is bravely and self-sacrificially standing with his people and up to the Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin. He appears ready to lay down his life, if need be, for his friends (John 15:13).

For such a time as this

I see him as an “Esther” for our time. She became queen against all odds (unbeknownst, at first, to her king-husband). She risked her life when she learned that she was her people’s best hope against extermination. Her Uncle Mordecai sent her word of this impending massacre. He said, “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place, but you and your family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to a royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) Zelenskyy, also a Jew, is now following Esther’s example.

Vladimir Putin
photo by premier.gov.ru

Where does the courage of an Esther, of a Zelenskyy, come from? Unlike the superficial bravado of bullies and dictators, born not of fearlessness but of fear, this is bravery. Bravery born of love, of empathy, of wisdom, of a mature and grounded faith in That Which is with us even unto death (and beyond). So, in prayer, I posed a question to God. 

In God’s image?

Me: Since we are all created in Your image (Gen 1:27), where can I find Your image in Putin?”   

God: Like all my children, he is made in My image. But he isn’t in touch with that of Me within him. He is not in communion with Me. 

At this, I wondered if Putin has ever known that he was made in God’s image. Or if he has known on some level but rejected it, or refused it, or denied it (Proverbs 1:20-33). Or has he twisted it around, making his god in his image? Is he thus worshiping not God but Satan, the idol of evil, the adversary, the opponent, the enemy of God? 

Me: And You teach us to love our enemies …

Love all

Bearing God’s image requires us to love even the Russian dictator. What does this mean for our own response to this situation? What would God have them/us do in this moment? So, on that Ides of March and eve of Purim and every day, I pray for a free and democratic Ukraine. I pray for the life of Zelenskyy and all the good people there and in Russia. And I pray for Putin — for a total turnaround, a conversion of his heart and mind, that he would understand who God is in him and who he is in God. I pray that he would know the deep truth of being made in the image of God. And that he would live “in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars” (George Fox, 1650).

*Their first names, “Vladimir” and “Volodymyr,” are Russian and Ukrainian variants of the same Slavic root, meaning either “ruler of the world” or “ruler of peace.”

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Sabrina Falls

Sabrina Falls

Providence Associate Sabrina Falls ministers with the Celtic harp as a certified music practitioner, providing live therapeutic music at the bedside of patients in hospitals, hospice, and homes, and for weddings, memorials, retreats, receptions, worship services, and special programs. With dual membership in the Mennonite and Friends churches, and raised in Judaism, she bridges many faith traditions, including as an associate with this Catholic congregation! Sabrina lives in Indianapolis with her husband David and dog Blossom just around the corner from her son Michael, daughter-in-law Emily and two young grandchildren.

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  1. Avatar Marsha Speth on March 27, 2022 at 7:35 am

    Thank you, Sabrina! Yes, both of these men are loved by God. Your meditation calls us to pray for both.

  2. Avatar S Sue Paweski on March 27, 2022 at 8:29 am

    Sabrina, your reflection brings to mind Mt 7: 16-20. “By their fruits you shall know them.” Putin sees himself as a messenger sent to restore the old order of Russian dominance while Zelensky supports Ukrainians’ desire for democracy. We can see the different paths each has taken. We pray for peace and conversation of hearts. Thank you, Sabrina!

  3. Avatar Barbara Battista SP on March 27, 2022 at 10:12 am

    So grateful for your words today. Thank you for reminding us that we are all made in God’s image, no exceptions.

    • Avatar Madonna on March 30, 2022 at 7:14 pm

      How difficult it is to believe at times that every human being walking the face of the earth is made in God’s image. I appreciate the comments about whether or not Putin is in communion with God.

  4. Avatar Stephen Modde on March 27, 2022 at 10:12 am

    Thanks! I needed to read your wise words. Recently I am reminded from several sources that we must daily prayerfully remind ourselves that we are made in God’s image of continual love. Your reflection here led me to also think and pray for some USA congress members who blatantly demonstrated racism and misogyny as they questioned Judge Jackson. Senator Corey Booker reminded us that God brought her there. May love, mercy and justice prevail..

  5. Avatar Jeanne Hagelskamp, SP on March 27, 2022 at 2:54 pm

    Thank you, Sabrina, for this reminder that both were made in God’s image… Given the atrocities that Putin has wreaked on the people of Ukraine, I needed to be reminded!

  6. Avatar Donna Butler on March 27, 2022 at 7:29 pm

    Thank you Sabrina. Yes, both need prayers. I also pray for the Russian people as well as those of Ukraine. Both are suffering in different ways. I can’t help but wonder what Putin’s childhood was like. How did he come to this place of unbelievable inhumanity?

    Like Stephen, I too felt for Judge Jackson and was grateful for how Cory Booker reached out to her.
    I can only imagine how hard it was for her to sit through all those hours and some very rude treatment.

    When we sing the Gloria and the words are “peace to people of good will,” I choose to sing “peace to people everywhere” because those not of good will need peace to change their hearts. I pray too for those who are Russian in this country who are being targeted for what Putin is doing. I pray for all the people throughout history who have been forcefully removed from their homelands.

  7. Avatar Bill Hughes on March 27, 2022 at 9:14 pm

    Thank you, Sabrina. I would echo all the comments above. We need to hear this, believe it, act out of it. Hard work on some days!

  8. Avatar madonna on March 30, 2022 at 7:17 pm

    Thank you for the time and effort in writing this. I posted it on my Facebook. It is worth reading and giving it some serious consideration.

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