In the Shadow of Chernobyl | World Challenge

In the Shadow of Chernobyl

Rachel Chimits
June 1, 2020

We are all living and walking around in the presence of something horrifyingly virulent, but do we recognize what it is?

In the HBO television docudrama Chernobyl, the two men leading the response to the nuclear meltdown are faced with a serious problem. Highly radioactive graphite pieces are scattered all over the reactor building’s roof, and they must be moved or covered. The team attempts to do this several times with robots, but the freakishly high levels of radiation keep destroying the machines’ circuitry.

Finally, they realize that the only ‘machine’ capable of surviving the radiation long enough to move it and the only ‘animal’ clever enough to know where to move it to safely is a human. The world’s best “bio-machine,” they say.

Groups of men are sent up onto the roof, exposing themselves to the equivalent of thousands of chest x-rays as they move the graphite.

I would be willing to bet that afterward all of those men moved as far away from Chernobyl and Pripyat as possible. Soviet records are unclear, or nonexistent, about where the individuals in these teams went in the aftermath; many probably died months later, their bodies ravaged by the radiation. However, it seems unlikely that any of them looked down at the exposed nuclear core, felt their thyroid humming in their throat as it died and thought, “Yup, this is the place for me.”

Despite the seemingly obvious logic there, today people have begun moving back into towns along the fringes of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, some less than 15 miles from the old power plant. Many are fleeing the violence between Russian and Ukrainian groups in the southeast.

"Radiation may kill us slowly, but it doesn't shoot or bomb us," one woman told reporters. "It's better to live with radiation than with war"

As incredible as this may sound, we often make a very similar decision every day. 

Exposing Ourselves to Acute Radiation

Comparing sin to nuclear fallout might seem extreme; after all, one isn’t giving us bone cancer or acute radiation poisoning.

Everything that the Bible says about sin or the effects of sin, however, would indicate that it’s the more dangerous of the two. “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2, ESV).

Sin not only destroys our bodies, but it also corrupts our minds so that we can’t think clearly or act well.

“Sin never dies of itself,” David Wilkerson preached. “If it isn't uprooted and destroyed, it takes over the very throne of your life. First, it affects your conscience, causing you to lose all discernment. The difference between right and wrong becomes clouded and fuzzy. Then, sin's voice gains your ear. Slowly, it begins to justify your lust to you, even giving you scriptural arguments to support it….

“You may know Christians in this horrible condition. They get defensive whenever they're confronted about their bosom lust. They claim, ‘What I'm doing isn't wrong. I've prayed about it, and the Holy Spirit has told me I'm not sinning.’

“Yet you know very well that person's behavior contradicts God's word.”

If left unchecked, sin ultimately leads to the ruin of our souls, and that’s far more than radiation is every going to manage. Most people, however, would choose to live with ‘a little sin’ in their lives without a second thought.

There’s a certain irony that if given the option between something that may bring us to a violent and sudden end or something that will kill us in worse ways but slowly, we very often choose the latter.

Make the Most Rational Choice

Russian officials in 1986 only told firefighters and first responders that the Chernobyl reactor had “a fire on the roof” and neglected to mention that the roof was completely gone with a graphite inferno raging at over 1,000 degrees Celsius for a very good reason.

No one in their right mind would’ve gone anywhere near it, given the choice.

Everyone was too busy downplaying the seriousness of their situation, though. Surely the radiation couldn’t be that serious. The fire would be out in a few days. No need to tell anyone in nearby Pripyat to evacuate. These sorts of accidents in factories and power plants happen now and then. There was a, shall we say, comforting ambivalence to the reports flowing in to officials and local leaders. It allowed them to pick and choose what they believed.

While they industriously maintained their façade, they exposed themselves and many other innocents to an inevitable, grueling death by acute radiation poisoning.

Erik Raymond wrote, “Thoughts are never stagnant nor innocent. They grow and mature, developing into sinful actions. We have to remember that wrong thinking leads to wrong living…. In fact, when we slide out of the biblical balance of thinking about sin then we find ourselves sliding into a comfortable ambivalence towards it.”

In a similar vein, Thabiti Anyabwile wrote, “Sin is irrational in its choice of the temporary and fleeting over the permanent and immovable. We all face the allure of the ‘temporary pleasures of sin.’ However, those pleasures seek to distract us from an inheritance kept by the power of God through faith and a city whose foundations will never be shaken or destroyed.

“To choose what only lasts for a moment over what lasts forever is to act without rationality.”

As anyone in their right mind would tell you, you don’t play with nuclear waste, and knowing exactly what you’re dealing with — keeping that information in front of yourself always — can allow you to protect yourself, make wiser decisions and not expose yourself or anyone else unnecessarily.

Remembering Our Promise and Future

In the battle against sin’s toxicity, John Piper wrote, “Declare radical allegiance to the other side — God — and consciously put all your mind, heart, and body at his disposal for righteousness and purity. ‘Present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness’ (Romans 6:13).

“Don’t make any plans that open the door for sin’s entry. ‘Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires’ (Romans 13:14). Don’t prove your purity in a pornography shop or your commitment to simplicity at an upscale mall.”

Most importantly, though, he said, “Ask for the Spirit’s help and power in all these things. ‘By the Spirit . . . put to death the deeds of the body’ (Romans 8:13). All that is good in us is a ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22). He causes us to walk as we should (Ezekiel 36:27; Isaiah 26:12).”

While we are on earth, we are all living in the shadow of a destructive power far worse than Chernobyl. We have an internal Giger counter and an explicit manual on the dangers of what we face. Sin has already introduced death into our bones; we feel it every day.

Fortunately, our leader has created a true solution for our poisoned world and failing bodies. We must remember the real horror of what we face and then hold tightly to God’s promise of a future restoration and healing.