Day 4: All the Nations will Stream (to) It

In the days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations will stream to it.
Many people shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that God will teach us the ways,
and that we may walk in God’s paths.”

-Isaiah 2:2-3

I will say loudly and publicly that the reason we pause our lives every four years is that we are watching the best soccer of the quadrennial and I know I am lying. This is my rationale for people who expect rational behavior. I know as well as any fan that a national team that comes together a few days a year will never play as elegantly as the club teams that play together day in and day out. We are unlikely to see such a concentration of talent on a national team as we do in the bankrolled European leagues. The conceit of the World Cup is the limitation of our nations, how 30 countries are eliminated and cheering for someone else. The act of collective national joy allows for unique bridge building between nations.

I used to think this passage in Isaiah described a moment where God unifies humanity by calling all peoples to a uniquely holy place. Today, I notice how it is only because people are “streaming (to) it” that they say “let us walk in God’s paths.” The act of noticing each other’s nations is what inspires them to keep surging up the mountain to God’s house. We are all in this together.

It is easy to read prophetic texts like Isaiah 2 as waiting around for God to do something grandiose to heal humanity, but perhaps what God is doing is creating the conditions for us to learn from each other. To perform small acts of healing together. Walking in the paths of God means not only learning to notice God, but noticing the best of other cultures and adopting those practices. 

This is not to say that the stadiums are temples of God–vanity construction projects won’t save us (*cough* Solomon’s temple *cough*). Or that the World Cup resolves geopolitical conflict. But the magic of the World Cup is that it is difficult to sustain nationalism when we all bring our joyful selves and cultures to the same place. The more nations you are connected to, the more you enjoy the games. And we catch glimpses of God in the way that a melting pot of nationalism begets the collapse of national identity.

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