I’ve been haunted recently by the words of Veronika Melkozerova, a journalist based in Kyiv, Ukraine, who writes in The Atlantic, “Before the invasion, I had never hated anyone, but now my anger eats at me from inside.”
She goes on to describe the horror the rest of us have been witnessing only from afar, as “Vladimir Putin’s forces invaded our land, killed our countrymen and women, and seized our territory.”
The Ukraine invasion is sufficient reason for anger, especially for someone who has witnessed it up close. But Melkozerova then points out where her anger crescendos: “I am angry that Russia might get away with what it has done to Ukraine,” she says.
Some have estimated that there have been 600 to 1,000 Ukrainian casualties per day in recent months; there are likely far more than that. Considering the deaths, the people left grieving and those bearing physical and emotional injuries from the ongoing assault, Melkozerova admits to sometimes wanting to “scream out my window, ‘They are killing us! They are looting our land! They are torturing our people!’”
Read: Won’t anyone stop them?!
Even while much of the world sends weapons and other material help, we know something of what she is feeling. We are watching a bigger bully pound a more vulnerable victim, seemingly helpless to do anything while the bully demands that everyone else stay out.
The reasons for caution are obvious and understandable; how could we risk a broader world war and nuclear attacks? That doesn’t make what’s happening in Ukraine any easier to watch. And an existential question weighs heavy in the air as Russia gains ground: Are they really going to get away with this?
Absolutely not. Not in the end.
The same week I read Melkozerova’s account of her anger, my boys and I completed the gripping finale of the “Harry Potter” books. The “boy who lived” spent many years of his life terrorized by a villain and his followers who acted with seeming impunity.
Up until the end, few could imagine Lord Voldemort being held accountable for his actions, let alone being completely vanquished. But as in real life, that moment eventually came.
Readers are given a glimpse of his life after death, reduced to “small, maimed creature” that whimpers and trembles in agony under a chair, repulsive to all onlookers. Such was the end of Lord Voldemort, a fitting metaphor for the future of all who wreak such devastation and pain upon others.
But this is not just a fictional lesson from a fantasy novel. Most of the major world religions agree not only upon some meaningful experience after death, but also in some ultimate judgment in which human beings are held to account for their acts in this life.
While we still long for earthly justice, there is a tangible comfort that comes from believing that one day (if not now) wrongs will be made right.
This is a concept that was well known and appreciated in colonial America when Jonathan Edwards and his contemporaries overdid the notion by preaching of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
But today, talk of future accountability is as rare as discussion of hell; it’s much more pleasant to talk about God’s mercy, about grace and redemption.
It’s possible to overfocus on the latter, however, and miss the profound relief that belief in divine justice can provide, especially when facing unrelenting injustice on Earth.
None of this, of course, calls for resigning ourselves to bitter fates, or shrinking in our support of those enduring awful realities. And we must continue to do anything we can to support our brothers and sisters in Ukraine fighting for their lives and freedom.
Even if still long into the future, and if pain persists much longer than we would like, there is comfort in glimpsing a future in which “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away.”
Some may still see this as pie-in-the sky abstraction with minimal relevance to the here and now. But that’s where they go wrong. This kind of conviction is consummately practical for people like Melkozerova, who “don’t know how to live” with the intense anger and are looking for comfort.
So, no, Putin and his enablers won’t get away with what they’re doing in Ukraine.
Every casualty. Every injury. Every rape. And every death. Will be held to perfect account.
Jacob Hess is the editor of Public Square Magazine and served on the board of the National Coalition of Dialogue and Deliberation. He has worked to promote liberal-conservative understanding since the publication of “You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong)” with Phil Neisser. With Carrie Skarda, Kyle Anderson and Ty Mansfield, Hess also authored “The Power of Stillness: Mindful Living for Latter-day Saints.”