The United Nations: Past, Present, and Future

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken April 21, 1996

Most Christians don’t think about the United Nations very often. We take a keen interest in partisan politics in America—maybe too keen an interest—and we take some interest in international affairs that may affect our missionaries. But we don’t spend very much time thinking about the United Nations, and even less praying for it.

I have been thinking about the United Nations lately, mainly because Lisa and I went on a tour of the U.N. complex last month. Outside the visitors’ entrance we were greeted by a sculpture of a giant handgun. The gun was twisted around into a knot so that it couldn’t be fired, symbolizing the U.N.’s mission to bring an end to human warfare.

There were more interesting things to see inside, like a model of Sputnik and artifacts from the atomic explosion at Hiroshima. We also saw a magnificent ivory sculpture of a railroad linking two Chinese villages, which must have been donated before people realized that ivory comes from elephants.

What we didn’t find at the U.N. was much mention of God. We did see one mural that included some verses from the Koran and one Norman Rockwell mosaic that incorporated the Golden Rule. We also saw a beautiful handwoven carpet from Iran that had a theological message. The weavers deliberately left one flaw in the carpet, to show that no one is perfect, only God. I thought about pointing out to our tour guide that human beings don’t need to make mistakes on purpose, since they tend to mistakes in any case, but I didn’t have the courage, since she was herself Iranian.

But apart from those few allowances for religion, the U.N. is a thoroughly secular space. There is plenty of information at the U.N. about the horror of war and the value of peace. What is missing is any sense that war is a result of human depravity, or that peace is a result of divine grace.

This is illustrated by a gigantic Spanish mural on the wall outside the Security Council chamber. The painting depicts the gradual transformation of human relationships from war (symbolized by an unruly stallion) to peace (symbolized by a boy gazing into the future with bright eyes). What the painting does not show is what would bring that transformation to pass. You see, it is one thing to have a noble goal, like peace in our times. It is another thing to have any idea how to achieve it. And while there has not been a world war since 1945, when the U.N. was founded, there has not been a year since then when there hasn’t been a war somewhere on the face of this planet.

This is a particularly appropriate week to contemplate the failure of the United Nations to achieve lasting peace. Tuesday, April 16, was Yom HaShoah, the day of remembrance for victims of the Holocaust, in which the Nazis exterminated millions of Jews and others during the 1930’s and 40’s. Yom HaShoah arrives this year at the same time that evidence is mounting that similar atrocities have been committed in the Bosnian Serb Republic. The lessons of the Holocaust have not been remembered, while its sins have been repeated, albeit on a smaller scale.

The clearest evidence of mass executions of Muslim Serbs is in and around the town of Srebrenica [see “The Disappeared of Srebrenica,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/15-17/96]. The irony of this is that Srebrenica was one of the Muslim enclaves designated as a “safe area” by the United Nations. Platoons of peacekeepers wearing pastel blue helmets that said “U.N.” on the side were scattered all over the city. Meanwhile, the fighting-aged Muslim men of the city were disappearing right out from under their noses. The U.N. was not keeping the peace; it was napping during a massacre.

I am not saying this to blame the U. N. forces for what happened, although it may turn out that they deserve part of the blame. The peace-keepers probably did as much as they could do, given what they had, considering what they were up against.

Nor am I suggesting that the United Nations is an evil organization. Admittedly, the U.N. conference on women held in Beijing last September dealt some blows to the well-being of women. But I do not think—as some Christians teach—that the U.N. is the beast of Revelation 13, who was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation (Rev. 13:7b). After all, the vision for the United Nations came from that pious Presbyterian, Woodrow Wilson! More to the point, the United Nations is one of the authorities that God has established in the world, whom he expects his people to honor (Rom. 13:1). That is why we should pray that the United Nations and its leaders would be a force for peace and prosperity in the world.

What I am doing is reminding us that the U.N. does not have the spiritual resources to accomplish its lofty goals. It can manage conflict, to a certain extent, but it cannot bring lasting peace. That is because peace with God is a prerequisite for peace on earth, and the only way to get peace with God is through Jesus Christ.

The prophet Micah prophesied about a different sort of United Nations, one that really worked. He wrote (Micah 4:2-3):

The law will go out from Zion,

the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

He will judge between many people and will

settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.

They will beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

nor will they train for war anymore.

Micah doesn’t tell us when that United Nations will be founded, but he seems to be talking about the day when Jesus Christ will return to rule the earth. The U.N. he describes will be superior in three ways. First, its Charter will be the eternal word of God and not just a document scrawled out by godless humanists. Second, its Secretary-General will be God himself, judging and ruling over the nations, and not just a weak diplomat who is bullied around by superpowers. Third, its Mission to bring permanent peace to the nations will be a lasting reality and not just a vain hope.

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