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The Olympic War and the End Times

Georgian Woman in GoriThere was a time when the Olympics meant a cessation of hostilities. A glimpse of the eschaton—as William Stringfellow would have put it—when our desires to dominate over each other get translated into harmless athleticism. This year, not so. The start of the Olympics (which China made sure would happen on the auspicious day of 8/8/08) marked the start of a regional war.

Russia’s invasion of Georgia has already become a human catastrophe. The New York Times reports 1,500 civilians killed, plus 12 Russian soldiers.

Knowing that many prophecy aficionados believe that Gog and Magog in the Bible, whose war on Israel heralds in the end times, is in southern Russia, I’ve been keeping an eye on the prophecy forums today to see how the wind is blowing. From what I can gather (here and here, for example), the prophecy community is concerned but cautious. They are waiting to see. The Rapture Index still hasn’t been updated since the invasion, so it will be interesting to see what happens there.

The Israel connection is of special concern. “If Russia does occupy Georgia and garrisons a large force,” writes green-agenda on the Rapture Ready forum, “there they will be less than 700 miles, two days drive, from Israel with only eastern Turkey and Syria between them.” Rapture Ready news today includes a story about Russia’s warnings against Israeli settlement-building. I saw one notice elsewhere pointing to the growing tension between Israel and Russia-backed Iran. HisdaughterJen writes, “Maybe the invasion by Russia of Georgia (magog) is going to spill into Israel…maybe it’s a ruse of some kind…the world thinks they are retaking Georgia but will wake up to an Islamic Horde and Russia moving into Israel quite suddenly and unexpectedly. …just a thought…”

Why do I bring up Biblical prophecy? It is true, there is real significance to this stuff; the considerable political support of American fundamentalists for Israel depends on it. But more, it is an extreme example of what we all do when we read the paper, when we see that a thousand and a half civilians have been killed and apartment buildings bombed. An abstraction, a translation into a transcendent narrative, a story that transforms a crisis of the present into only a sign of things to come. It can be prophecy, or it can be simple geopolitical strategizing. It can be turning geopolitics into a game that can be won, like an Olympic event, or that we should try to win. The reality of a bombed city is none of these things: only horrible, sad destructiveness.

The best explanation I’ve ever heard for the value of prophecy to Christians, in the opening remarks of a prophecy conference in Santa Barbara, CA, was that prophecy offers assurance. It tells us that God is in control of history, and that the things that happen, horrible as they may seem, fit into a plan.

Assurance is fine, but it must not cloud the insanity of events or the suffering of people. They are not pieces on a game, or athletes in an event on television. They are bloody, dead, and destroyed. Whatever a God might have in mind, God does not need our second-guessing. God needs our caring for each other. Let the war end and the games go on, and may there be no confusing the two.

3 comments on “The Olympic War and the End Times

  1. Hmm, just a minor comment that I think W. S. would probably default to viewing the Olympics in relation to idolatry, and as too caught up in nationalism, rather than in a more positive or hopeful light. (Circus athleticism is different, though, as a parody of, and taunt to, the more traditional athleticism.)

    “…idols can be readily discerned acting in concert, aiding and abetting one another. The idol of sports illustrates how this occurs, notably where zealous attention to sports distracts people from the wiles of other idols. It is not just happenstance that the most totalitarian racist regime in the world — South Africa — is so passionate about athletics. It is no mere coincidence that it was during the 1967 World Series in America that the Pentagon was engaged in determining the contingent assignments of federal military forces for riot duty in the cities…” (_Impostures of God_, pp. 45-46; 1969)

  2. Could be, and I think it might be a mistake on his part to think so. There was certainly downright idolatry in the original Olympics—such as the elevation of athletes to gods—but there was also the cessation of hostilities. This is nothing if not an eschaton moment! Take the circus too, which Stringfellow loved. There are certainly idolatrous moments in circuses, but what he focused on was the eschaton.

    The idea of sports as eschaton was taught to me by my uncle. On a trip we did together, he spent a lot of time explaining what he would do if he were emperor of the world. Part of that whole scheme was that, when wars are all over, sports will be very important. Our competitive side will need them as an outlet.

    Of course I, being no good at sports, resisted that idea at first, but since I have come to believe it.

  3. Hi Nathan,
    Interesting assessment of how the new conception of sport and nationalism coincides with the “Old” conecption of prophecy and biblical apocalypse. It’s noteworthy to mention that, for the opening Olynpics spectacle, the Chinese were ethnically selective & used the facial & physical features of a certain group to represent all groups in China–while the Russians were basically committing ethnic cleansing in Georgia. I guess what I find interesting here is that you interweave the notion of “prophecy”–which has (atleast) two, somewhat interwoven, shades: the biblical, apocalyptic kind & the kind by which one group asserts their superiority over another, simply because it was “written”, “prophecy”…
    Nice to be over here in your blogworld. There needs to be more imaginative scholarly journalists like you.

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