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The secretary-general’s naivety

When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed.  Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away (Mark 13:7-8, 31, NIV).

In Kyiv yesterday, UN chief Antonio Guterres gave an impromptu speech to reporters.  Visibly stirred by what he’d seen, he said that “War is an absurdity in the twenty-first century.”

I wondered what he meant.  Presumably he subscribes to a view of universal human progress in which war is something which belongs back in the Middle Ages; it’s an evil we can move on from.  As society improves, we will learn to put war behind us.  Certainly that is the aim of the United Nations: at their headquarters in New York Isaiah’s verse about how people will beat their swords into ploughshares (Isa 2:4) is commemorated with a striking statue.

That is a laudable aim for an organisation, and we cannot doubt that the UN has done much good in helping to secure a measure of peace on earth.  Moreover, Mr Guterres is surely to be commended for his bravery in visiting Kyiv and his attempts to help.

But the view that we can somehow put wars behind us is surely naive.  Not only does this have all of human history against it; it is also the opposite of what the Bible teaches us to expect.  We would do better to humble ourselves, and accept Jesus’ words quoted above, as a permanent (sadly) expectation throughout human history.

It’s easy to see, though, how this naive optimism has arisen.  Humanity has made so much progress technologically, scientifically and culturally that we assume that we must also progress morally.  But the one kind of progress is, sadly, no guarantee of the other.

Indeed, it never was. There is a fascinating passage in Genesis 4 where we meet the family of a man called Lamech.  His three sons are introduced to us as amazing innovators in agriculture, technology and music.  And yet Lamech himself is a brute.  Genesis is introducing us to a world in which we experience astounding progress in these areas and yet in which human nature changes not a bit.

We need so much to hear this – because it stops us putting our hope in the wrong places.  We should certainly pray for efforts at peace-making.  But we need to see that ultimately it is only peace with God that will bring peace on earth.  The UN statue omits the first part of Isaiah 2:4.  Look it up!