Okay, we’re moving on. We weren’t quite ripe for Revelation; we leaped ahead to the happy ending before we left, with a lot of questions unsettled. I still hope we come back to this someday.
There’s one of those scholarly ‘consensus’-es that Revelation was written as merely a religious pep talk for early Christians facing persecution. There is that element; the threat of persecution was obviously on the author’s mind, and a key refrain here is that those who keep the faith get richly rewarded, while bad stuff happens to those who don’t. That reading makes the whole book pretty trivial, not much to say about it–and so we’ve treated it.
The happy ending came along, and that should make everybody there celebrating happy enough, but it isn’t at all clear how they arrived and why we haven’t yet.
Unsettled questions, probably unraised questions. If we’re Christians, and Christianity is based on Judaism, what do we make of the prophets’ understanding of history? The Apocalypse is the one book of Christian scripture that applies something remotely like the prophets’ tacit view of things. We can treat the book as “inspirational,” in which case we find most of it more disturbing than inspiring. We can use it to point fingers, as people have been doing ever since “666” became a numerical word-game. If we imagine “prophecy” means merely “prediction,” we can mine it for hints of how God plans to whup us next year.
Or if we’re looking for that, we can seek ways to better understand God and our own collective situation. The “meaning of human history,” as people generally interpret that scroll with all the seals.
Is “Stuff happens” the governing mechanism of the world? Can we rely on?–or must we settle for?–human progress, techniques of political lobbying or grass-roots organizing, framing of issues, creative nonviolent actions like the ones we did last war, some other notion or gimmick to make the world come out better rather than worse? One strong message of this book–one of the things that makes it so very unpopular–is that we can’t do that. Whatever your saving gimmick, it isn’t the rock and you can’t build there.
People keep trying to build Jerusalem and ending up in Egypt, until God finally pulls the rabbit out of the hat. I still don’t understand: Why that rabbit, that hat, that time?–rather than sooner or later?
If the message is to “Just trust God,” why is God shown teaching it by wars, plagues, famines and earthquakes? What makes The Beast seem the most interesting character here, the Whore the one seemingly most fun to party with?
If we don’t like scarey, violent stories full of bad people and disasters–why do people choose the news and entertainment they generally do watch or read?
We don’t like to think of God as responsible for the yucky bits–but monotheism demands that God must be. This, however, is hard to square with our knowledge of God’s goodness–which is not a matter of intellectual interest alone, but tied to our whole orientation toward life. Do we get to honestly consider it a good thing?
I understand this aspect of Revelation as stemming from the truth of Buddha’s statement–that life (as an ego) is suffering.
Without a felt mystical connection to God, life is inescapably tragic.
But then God–from the very depths of our souls– rains plagues on us, to bring us out of Egypt, that “narrow place” of slavery we imagine to be our only possible home.