Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Thy Kingdom Come...

When I saw several weeks ago that the parish bible study was going to be tackling Revelation, my first thought was: Well, maybe I'll sit it out one more time and see what they're about next time around.

I'd never found Revelation particularly interesting reading. However, on further thought, it occurred to me that perhaps the fact that I found the book so uninteresting would be a good reason to go to the bible study. After all, it's part of the bible. I assumed that there must be something I was missing. Plus the study was being given by our new assistant pastor, fresh out of seminary and a really solid and enthusiastic guy. So I've been going.

It's still not my favorite book of the bible, but I think I'm beginning to "get it" more than before. Last night, covering chapters 4-7, a section struck me as in a sense reflective of some things I'd been thinking about lately.

In the second vision, the scroll with seven seals is brought forward, and it is asked who is worthy to open the scroll.
One of the elders said to me, "Do not weep. The lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David, has triumphed, enabling him to open the scroll with its seven seals." Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne and the four living creatures and the elders, a Lamb that seemed to have been slain.... He came and received the scroll from the right hand of the one who sat on the throne. When he took it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each of the elders held a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the holy ones. They sang a new hymn: "Worthy are you to receive the scroll and to break open its seals, for you were slain and with your blood you purchased for God those from every tribe and tongue, people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on earth." I looked again and heard the voices of many angels who surrounded the throne and the living creatures and the elders. They were countless in number, and they cried out in a loud voice: "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing." (Rev. 5: 5-12)
As the lamb opens the seals on the scroll, terrors are released upon the world to tear down the established order. In the context of last first/early second century, what is being discussed here is the chaos that doubtless must take place before the old pagan order of the ancient world can be remade according to the Christian faith. Part way through the various calamities described:
When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God. They cried out in a loud voice, "How long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgment and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?" Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to be patient a little while longer until the number was filled of their fellow servants and brothers who were going to be killed as they had been. (Rev. 6: 9-11)
Here those who have given their lives for the faith and ascended to the heavenly kingdom are saying "faster please" -- asking when the reign of God on earth will begin. The answer is that they must wait until the suffering of the Church on Earth has reached its conclusion. Taken imminently, that might be taken to mean until a Christian society is established. Perhaps that's what the original readers saw it as. Or perhaps they saw it as the point when the temporal world was brought to its conclusion. Looking back, we can certainly see that despite the conversion of the Europe and beyond, a truly "Christian world" is necessarily illusive. And so we too continue to wait for the time when all will be rolled aside and true justice will reign throughout the world.

Perhaps this is a case of applying what you're thinking about at the moment to what you're reading, but it struck me that this speaks to a permanent tension within the Christian mind.

On the one hand, we believe that through Christ's Word we've come to understand how humans are meant to live their lives, and believing that we know that there's a natural desire to want to re-order the world to function more according to that truth.

On the other hand, Christian teaching pertains to how each one of us ought to lead our lives in order to one day be united with God in heaven; it does not describe a specific end state for earthly society. As such, attempts to perfect earthly society have distinct limitations.

The question of how much one should strive to perfect earthly society (and in what areas and by what means) versus how much one should hunker down and focus on one's own progress towards God remains a fertile ground for argument between Christians.

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