a thought on Revelation

I just finished going slowly through the book of Revelation. It is quite heavy, but appropriate, when we consider just how heavy the world is, if we pay any attention to the news at all. It is not exactly nice, as appropriate for a bedtime story for children. Yet it addresses real evil, and brings in the true and final salvation for the healing and flourishing of all.

When reading through this book, it’s not like we should just see it as metaphorical, and not really happening. I don’t believe world events will happen precisely as given in the book, because the book is chalk full of symbols, and symbolic imagery. Awesome, world-changing and shaping events will take place, and evil will at a point be purged, but we need to avoid what is surely the crass literalism of the “left behind” approach.

One is struck with just how strongly the Revelation shakes out to be a fulfillment in the sense of ending of the entire Bible, of the First (“Old”) Testament, as well as the Final (“New”) Testament. No one should think they are a faithful Bible reader and student if they don’t take the entire Bible seriously from Genesis through Revelation, of course including everything in between. Some things might not appeal to us, we might not get it, but we need to hang in there, and try to understand, and keep working at it over the long haul, little by little.

Revelation reminds us of many biblical themes, like salvation in the final sense, the kingdom of the world as in the world system, persecution of those who hold to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus, the kingdom of God in King Jesus, the goal of all creation with strong parallels to Genesis, etc.

It is a hard book to read, probably for me  because it hits up against my Modernist Enlightenment influenced sensibilities, and one might even say, Anabaptist tendencies rooted in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). The latter takes evil seriously, and simply takes the way of the Lamb in opposing it. The former cringes at the thought of actual evil (“we can educate it away”), and even more against the notion of judgment. And there’s the broken down systems of justice in our world today, perhaps adding to a cynical view of traditional approaches. Therefore, though a heavy read, Revelation is surely a much needed read for us today.

So if there’s a next time for me to go over Revelation, I hope by God’s grace to be more ready, and hopefully will be able to take more in, so that along with others, we can in faith faithfully endure through Jesus to the very end.

the importance of the church

There is no doubt that the individual and individuals are important to God. In fact we can say that every individual human being matters to God. God created each of us in his image, and treats every human being with respect as such. Even though so many evils in a world of hurt we have to leave with God, since life often seems unfair, quite broken, our own difficulties that way not even close to the plight others experience. So what is said here is not at all to disparage the importance of the individual before God and in the world.

But while the individual in scripture is far from ignored, in fact, just the opposite, there is a clear emphasis on the importance of community, or individals together in communion in knowing each other, living with each other’s interests in view, and not just their own individual interests. On the most basic level this happen in families in which the spouses inevitably should put their partner’s interest at least on the same level as their own, and surely higher, in the way of Christ. And of course good parents inevitably sacrifice their own wants and desires for the good of their children.

In scripture God called an individual, Abraham, to call a people to himself. Yes, a people. Human beings are meant to live in community. To be human in significant part is to be in relationship to another human; it is not good for the human to be alone. God is creating a people in Jesus who not only enter into communion with God, which by the way is a Trinitarian communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but into communion with other humans in reflecting something of that Triune communion in God himself.

We find the formation of the nation of Israel meant to be a light to the world, in showing God’s light of truth and love to the nations. Blessed to be a blessing, that calling realized in its fullness in Christ’s fulfillment of it. And now the church in Jesus together is to proclaim and be a witness to that fulfillment to the world, by gathering together for the word, the sacraments, and the common life. Everyone who is a member of Christ through faith and baptism, is also a member of his body, the church. We in Jesus not only belong to him, but to each other.

This isn’t easy, given our culture in the United States, the first nation built on the Modernist Enlightenment in which at least one of its pillars is indiviual rights. It becomes all about my rights. And we’re already broken because of sin, not only a personal brokenness, but along with that a brokenness in relationships, even if by common grace much good still goes on. We want to be left alone, but that urge mirrors our bent to want God to leave us alone, or meet us on our own terms. But that is not the way in Jesus, as we see over and over again in scripture. It isn’t easy, but there is no other option in really following the Lord, in truly being Christian.

 

reading the Bible with modern sensibilities

First of all, just as Christianity is not- tried and found wanting, but rather, untried, period (G. K. Chesterton), so the Bible is not- read and found wanting, but actually not read at all. As a rule. But it’s true that the Bible was written in a different day with reference to a different time. Also the Bible itself I think carries us along in what has been said to be a “redemptive movement hermeneutic” (William Webb), God moving his people toward the goal of his kingdom, fulfilled in King Jesus himself. So that the ethic of that kingdom which is to be lived out and explored in each culture and time ought to show the world a better way, even while ultimately such an ethic can be fulfilled only in and through Jesus, through God’s saving work in him.

Modernism in some ways has simply hidden the evil present, which Jesus taught precedes from the heart into our actions (or inaction). So that we fail to love God with all our being and doing, and we fail to love our neighbor as ourselves. Of course none of us will arrive on those scores, but the point is that we can directly violate them, failing for example to be a neighbor to those in need (Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan- Luke 10:25-37).

To think that modernism hasn’t been guilty of barbarism is not to know history. Of course we are better off with modern dentistry, medicine, etc., etc. In this world via “common grace” there indeed have been some good advances. But such things, while potentially helping the poor, still leave the heart unchanged.

The whole point of scripture is the gospel fulfilled in Jesus, God’s grace and kingdom come in him. And it is fulfilled through a people, Israel to begin with carried on now by what has been called the expanded Israel, the church. Yes, we have yet to arrive ourselves, but that’s not the fault of scripture, but rather our fault to a significant extent. But with the fact and factor that we are in process toward the final goal in this life.

Perhaps in a certain sense and in a good number of ways it’s not the Bible that needs critiqued, but instead the times in which we live. Postmodernism, arguably existent as a reaction to modernism, while carrying some weight, has enough problems of its own. One shouldn’t think they can slide on without factoring in the need for truth, having a basis for what’s right and wrong. But the answer we say as followers of Jesus is found in God’s grace and kingdom come in King Jesus. And God’s will in him. The Revelation at the end of the Bible is a bracing judgment of the evil in the world, a putting an end to it in bringing in God’s good salvation.

And so rather than us standing in judgment of the Bible, we need to let the Bible stand in judgment of us as God’s word, leading us to God’s final Word, Jesus.

“add to your faith goodness”

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

From our modernist heritage we put the emphasis not on virtue, but on knowledge. One would think by now that we would understand that knowledge alone does not make one better, or the world better. It is of course what we do with that knowledge which counts.

I am one who likes to know as in learning as much as I can and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Notice the passage itself lists adding knowledge right after goodness. It is important and sometimes despised in reaction to our Modernist, Enlightenment world. Of course knowledge needs to be couched in the right context. Here it is couched in the context of of God’s divine call and enabling in and through Christ. The entire list is instructive for us. In fact rather ironically to read and consider such a list is toward knowledge, or an intellectual understanding of the same. But that does little good unless goodness accompanies it.

The heart of the matter in the life in Jesus is to live a life of love, of course in terms of our calling in Jesus. The world won’t necessary see all that we do and say with reference to that calling as good. For example Jesus is our king, and earthly masters have no total absolute authority over us. That’s not going to sit well in many places. And our confession that Jesus is Lord and the way to God along with the confession that there is one God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is not going to be tolerated in some places. While there is indeed significant overlap in the goodness referred to here which Christians are to live out, there are some significant differences as well. What is crucial is that our lives are pleasing to God and that people have nothing justly bad to say about us.

We don’t stop at goodness of course (and the list is not strictly speaking sequential, though I find the order in some ways possibly suggestive), but we add the rest of what is on this list to our faith as well. And so we in Jesus should be known for our goodness in and through him.

 

the text and life

Postmodernism emphasized the subjective, whereas modernism emphasized the objective. Maybe we’re somewhere into post-postmodernism, whatever that is. But while each is erroneous, there is truth in both.

There is no way when I read (or listen to) scripture that my life does not impact what I am reading. It is good to ask God to remove all distractions so that by grace we may attend to him,*  give him our full attention, be still in his presence. Even so I am imagining, and I actually believe that God speaks into our lives, our circumstances. That what God says to us, what is impressed on us, will have an impact on us, on our lives and experience.

Scripture I take as God’s written word. It is a living document which somehow speaks into our lives here and now, into the lives of every generation and culture. God meets us where we live, in and through Christ. There is a sameness about that, even in all the differences that addresses.

Scripture helps us live beyond circumstances without denying them. Somehow in some way that is really beyond us, we come to settle down into a rhythm in which the truth from God in Jesus meets us and our world, even the world as well, and new creation begins to set in. In the midst of the old world that is dying, a new world is coming and will come.

And so I am in the word everyday. I want to read it with others, as well. That God might speak his truth in Jesus. A truth for life, that shapes our lives, and life in this world.

*A necessary aside: God is neither male nor female. Although both male and female in their differences are made in the image of God. I simply use male pronouns for God, as in scripture. I struggle with using God’s Self, or something of the like, grammatically. 

faith is not intellectual knowledge

One truth coming more readily out of a more postmodern mindset is how little we really do know. Although the problem with postmodernism is that truth itself is dismissed as simply a power grabbing mechanism. Which reduces postmodernism itself into an absurd category in which there is no truth. Gravity is not really true, nor anything, really. A place in which no one can live. Or all is relative, so that what is true for you may not at all be true for me. At the same time Postmodernism brings with it a resounding, shattering critique of modernism, which was humanity’s confidence that by themselves they could figure the world out, and knowledge alone will bring the needed salvation to the human race. Our educational system is built largely on that fallacy. No need for revelation there, or faith, except faith in humankind’s ability. Of course that was shattered in the twentieth century and gave rise to what was already in the works I believe, in the critique which followed.

Faith doesn’t know it all. We know from God just enough to proceed by faith in the way of God. It is more like hearing a calling. Like Abraham who living in an idolatrous society heard the voice of God calling him out of that into a life of faith and obedience. Abraham in faith obeyed, not knowing in that he did not understand where he was going. Our Pastor Jack Brown yesterday shared with us a powerful message which noted this very thing: That faith by nature is trust in a person, in this case the Person of God. That we indeed can make an idol out of understanding. Or we can live in the mystery of faith. Of course we can’t explain the Trinity (yesterday was Trinity Sunday). God can never be reduced to our level. Instead we have to proceed with the sense God gives us, a sense which includes a message calling us to a faith in Christ: in his person, words and work. A faith which is rooted in the personal God, and through which we begin to know what is truth (reference: Pilate’s question to Jesus: What is truth?”). But in a way which never gives us place to boast about our superior knowledge. Because we know all is a gift, and that we are ever dependent on the One who gives in and through Jesus by the Spirit. A gift that puts us on a path of faith and obedience. Given to us in Jesus  for the world.