Monday, January 08, 2007

(Non-) Revelation

Okay...I'm sitting here waiting for a ride to Urgent Care to finally rid myself of the respiratory bug that has now seated itself in my chest, and simultaneously waiting to hear some advice from my GYN regarding my prescription that doesn't appear to be working -- so I know I'm not in the cheeriest mood right now.

But I'm here to tell you that I really dislike the Book of Revelation.

That's the topic of our next lay ministry retreat.

Now, I've read Koester and Rossing and assorted other scholars discoursing on this text. I know how to spar and parry with the religious Froot Loops whose entire Christian theological outlook appears to be based on their fanciful collective interpretation of Revelation. I know that we mainliners understand Revelation to be an allegory, a series of word-pictures, asserting God's control of and ultimate control over history, and offering comfort to oppressed people; that it's an important text through which to understand the situation and mindset of the early Christians to whom it was originally written; that in many ways it's a theological and stylistic homage to the Book of Daniel, and should be read concurrently with that text.

But I still don't enjoy the Book of Revelation. Like Luther, I don't think it's particularly revelatory; and I don't get a lot of Gospel out of it.

To me making excuses for Revelation -- high-minded, pious variations on "It's really not as bad as it seems" -- is like making excuses for an afflicted relative who talks to people who aren't there and thinks that the CIA clandestinely inserted a microchip into his buttock. It's the biblical equivalent of a Bosch painting.

So I wait to be convinced that I should really like the Book of Revelation.


Verdugo said...

Try Peterson's Reversed Thunder. There's some truly wonderful stuff in there, such as:

The way St. John's Book of Revelation has been treated by many of his readers is similar to the way he himself treated the revealing angel, but without the promptly heeded angelic rebuke. It is difficult to worship God instead of his messengers. And so people get interested in everything in this book except God, losing themselves in symbolhunting, intrigue with numbers, speculating with frenzied imaginations on times and seasons, despite Jesus' severe stricture against it (Acts 1:7). The number of intelligent and devout people prostrate before the angel, deaf to his rebuke, is depressing and inexcusable. For nothing is more explicit in this book than that it is about God. It is the revelation of Jesus Christ, not the end of the world, not the identity of the antichrist, not the timetable of history... Nothing in the book is comprehensible except through faith in Christ. Nothing has meaning apart from his lordship. p. 187

Sophia said...

Hi! I have been lurking on your blog for a long time and really like it.

Have you tried Ward Ewing's The Power of the Lamb? Having heard him preach on this in seminary chapel and lecture on it in NT class really changed my thinking on Revelation. We need to reclaim it from the wackos. It's not a pretty book. It's pretty crazy. But viewed in light of liberation theology (often just as uncomfortable for us affluent suburban folk as the fundie insanity) the book really WORKS. In other words, think about the current administration. Think about institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, homophobia. Ewing talks about the power of love and its ability to destroy the evil power in this world (like the examples just mentioned).

I spend a lot of time working with ministries for the homeless, including homeless GLBT teens (throwing a kid out of the house for being themselves - now there's Revelation-level evil), on the streets of NYC. This Advent was the first time all that apocalyptic literature clicked for me.

Backwoods Rev said...

I think I'm with you on the relevance bit- it's sort of like reading the Davinci code and needing secret languages and little orphan annie decoder rings to understand it.

However- when I read about the New Jerusalem- well, that's where I find myself. I see that tree of life, the living water that flows and I want to be there, leaning against that tree trunk, listing to the water flow. And the knowledge that the new heaven is now here on earth- well, then I want to keep it for the images that grow in my heart and help me see heaven in the world today.

I hope your retreat invites you to look for yourself in the book. I don't believe we are selfish when we seek meaning in biblical texts, we just seek our God-like image.


LutheranChik said...

I do have to qualify my post -- the hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy" is one of the more noble products of the Book of Revelation.

Tom in Ontario said...

I remember reading this post and then yesterday I was looking ahead at the Revised Common Lectionary readings in the next few months. We'll be hearing a lot of Revelation during the Easter Season.

2nd Sun. of Easter - Rev 1.4-8
3rd Sun. of Easter - Rev 5.11-14
4th Sun. of Easter - Rev 7.9-17
5th Sun. of Easter - Rev 21.1-6
6th Sun. of Easter - Rev 21.10, 22--22.5
7th Sun. of Easter - Rev 22.12-14, 16-17, 20-21