The Theology of Russia and Georgia

Like a lot of folks, I’ve been following the Russian invasion of Georgia and its […]

David Browder / 8.19.08

Like a lot of folks, I’ve been following the Russian invasion of Georgia and its subsequent chain reaction with great interest. [If you’ve just flown in from Mars and haven’t heard, you may read the whole story here]. Europe – especially the former Soviet bloc countries – has been put on notice by a resurgent (or desperate) Russia and has rightly become quite nervous. My immediate reaction was to blame Russia. There’s no doubt in my mind that the attacks were prepared for and premeditated; the “coincidental” concurrence with the Olympic Games (thereby restricting press coverage) and the enormity/coordination of the campaign is just too uncanny. There have also been attacks on parts of Georgia that are not associated with the disputed regions…

This is not a political blog entry, however. It is a theological one, and my particular thoughts have to do with the experience of life which is codified most deeply in the Bible. Specifically, the issue of “total depravity”, the idea that no part of human nature is untouched by sin and selfishness. That our motivations are profoundly mixed and reach deeply into both our conscious and unconscious lives. In other words, we are always both victim and victimizer. Murdered and murderer.

It is almost easier to see this on a geo-political scale than on a personal one. One need only look in the well-documented history books and speak with survivors. This is particularly true of Russia, whose history is an unflinching tale of violence and disaster. It has been at war with a dizzying array of people groups. Mongols racing in, painting the steppes red. Japan driving Russian forces through Korea and China. Bonaparte and Hitler gashing its borders from the West, leaving a wake of misery in their path. Kaiser Wilhelm wishing to do so.

If one reads Dostoevsky, Sergei Bulgakov and others, one will find a highly developed Russian nationalistic theology that makes American civil religion look like kindergartners trying to count to five (although this is hardly a notable accomplishment). “The sun will rise in the east,” “The Divine Wisdom in the soil of Mother Russia suffering for redemption,” and all that. Only now, God is out of the equation and the ultimate good is the state. Is it any wonder this nationalism arose?

Of course, the same Russia that’s been gashed and decimated by the aforementioned attacks (as well as the internal revolution of Red October, the subsequent Stalinist purges, and the rigors of the Cold War) is the Russia that currently has its boot on the neck of the hapless embryo of the democratic Georgian state, threatening both Ukraine and Poland (again). Similarly, the Georgian majority that was persecuting the Russian minority in South Ossetia is now being persecuted in grand fashion by Russia proper and its partisans. Total depravity, writ tragically large.

So who is the good guy? Iran or Iraq? Britain or Argentina? The United States, the Creek Nation, or the Confederacy? Russia or Georgia? What about our lives and the inevitable conflicts that arise with other individuals?

Ecclesiastes 1:13-15 And I applied my mind to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven; it is an unhappy business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun; and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be numbered.