Thursday, May 24, 2012

Revealing Revelation

Our five week study of Revelation with the small rural congregation I serve a few times a month is over, and I’m glad to see it go.  It’s my least favorite book in the bible.  In fact, least favorite is saying too much.  I do not care for it at all.  There is so much in the bible worthy of deep study, and, if we are Christ centered, none is more important than diving into what Jesus is reported to have said and done in the light of the prophets who preceded him. 
As far as I’m concerned, Revelation is a side bar, a distraction, but a powerful one for many.  Its fantastical visions and images captivate imaginations, titillate fears, and challenge the ability to distinguish what is real from what isn’t.  
Some believe that, because it is the last book, it must be the most authoritative, the final word so to speak, the book against which all other books in the bible must be measured.  Some believe that it reveals the blueprint for the end of time, and it is ignored at one’s peril.  Some have been persuaded by popular books and preachers who literally scare the hell out of them, or into them, through artful use of the book’s visions.  In spite of Christ’s repeated assurance of salvation, they are certain that people they know are destined for eternal punishment in hell, and are fearful that they also may be headed that direction.  For some, there is a lingering suspicion that all this stuff about how much God loves us is just a game of godly gottcha.
So they entered the study of Revelation with wide eyed anticipation that it might unlock some great secret of the universe, an inside scoop on what God is up to, a code to tell them when the world will end, and, maybe most of all, to confront once again the thundering threats of damnation that some idiot preacher had nailed onto their hearts during their formative years. 
I don’t know if our five weeks together were a disappointment.  I think we made progress in demystifying it.  We teased out the more important themes of hope, healing, reconciliation and restoration.  We emphasized the certainty of God’s triumph over evil: it is not a battle yet to be fought, the outcome of which is uncertain.  We explored the geopolitical setting in which John received his visions.  We discussed ancient and contemporary (to John) religions that were competing with Christianity.  We followed a few strands from Revelation back to passages in the Hebrew scriptures.  Time and again I argued that Revelation must be measured against the rest of scripture, especially the gospel stories, and not the other way round.  We tried hard to understand the role of metaphor, but it was difficult.  I was caught off guard when, in our final session, a question was raised about whether Babylon and Rome were literally, not metaphorically, the same, and that the Babylon of the Hebrew scriptures was the same city as modern day Rome.
Disappointed or not, they did ask for another round of bible study to be scheduled in the weeks ahead, and that’s a good thing.  I’m going for something simple next time.  Amos maybe.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, the book called Revelation, or by Catholics and Orthodox, the Apocalypse of John (both words mean "the unveiling", one from Latin, the other from Greek)has always been a crowd pleasure, with the appeal of a horror show! My mother was raised as a fundamentalist Methodist (as all Methodists were in the 1920s, especially those preached at in the Methodist Episcopal Church,South, as it then was; no different from what the Baptists, Presbyterians, and even Episcopalians were taught and believed about Revelation.) My mother spent her teenage years,she told me later, scared to death, looking to see if the "moon was turning to blood"! This book is the only one in the New Testament that actually says that its author was named John, and for centuries it was thought and taught that the same author,named John, also wrote both the Letters of John and the Gospel of John, though this was contested even in the Early Church( Some even then objected to including this book in the canon.) Fundamentalists and Mormons still are taught this. Of course, they also think that liberal Christians who study the Bible with modern criticism are going to suffer what the Book of Revelation predicts for unbelievers: eternity in H***!Dr B