The man who saved the world recently died at the age of 77.
At the height of the Cold War Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov was stationed at a missile detection bunker south of Moscow. On 26 September 1983, he received a message that five nuclear missiles had been launched by the United States and were heading towards Moscow. Although his computer flashed urgently at him that missiles were on the way, and knowing that he had just 20 minutes to launch a counter-attack, Petrov hesitated.
“The siren howled, but I just sat there for a few seconds, staring at the big, back-lit, red screen with the word ‘launch’ on it. I had all the data to suggest there was an ongoing missile attack. If I had sent my report up the chain of command, nobody would have said a word against it. There was no rule about how long we were allowed to think before we reported a strike. But we knew that every second of procrastination took away valuable time. All I had to do was to reach for the phone; to raise the direct line to our top commanders — but I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan.”
The officers had all been trained to give and obey orders without hesitation, but Petrov disobeyed what simply did not feel right to him. He thought that if the US were going to launch a first strike they would send more than five missiles, and as the alert system was relatively new, a false alarm was more likely.
If Petrov had been wrong, he would have compromised the Soviet Union’s ability to retaliate, but if he was right, he would save the world from nuclear holocaust. Thankfully, he was right, and Stanislav Petrov saved the world.
In a world in which we can feel the weight impending doom – nuclear recklessness in North Korea, global Islamic terrorism, disconcerting shifts in social policy, political lunacy around every turn – we are still thankful and hopeful.
We are thankful for the individuals like Stanislav Petrov who courageously go against the flow and withstand the pressure and do what is easy and acceptable.
We are also hopeful because we know the one who has truly saved the world. We can be realistic optimists.
We are optimists because Jesus is a saviour who did not succumb to the grave, but rose victorious. All of human history is God the Father steering everything towards the climactic hour when every knee will bow before the risen Lord Jesus. The times will truly reach their fulfilment when all things in heaven and earth are brought to unity under Christ (Ephesians 1:10).
But we are also realists because we know that this is the age of spiritual battle. We do not yet experience the fulfilment of Christ’s reign, and so we must “stand firm… with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace, …take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one”, and wield “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:15-17)
We stand confidently with the Christ who has really saved the world, and so we know that we are truly on the right side of history.
In Christian fellowship