Unveiling Revelation: ‘The Road to New Creation’

We’ve been spending time here most Fridays looking at the execrable theology of the Left Behind series. Those books are based on a supposed “Bible prophecy” scheme that takes the tribalism and prejudices of one kind of Christians, encodes them in the tropes of legends and popular culture, and then imposes them back on the Bible, claiming all the while that this is based on a “literal reading of the book of Revelation.”

So I’m thinking it might be good to also take some time on Fridays to remind ourselves of what Revelation — and other apocalyptic literature in the Bible — is really all about.

This week’s reminder comes from N.T. Wright, former Anglican bishop of Durham, prolific popular author, formidable theologian, and capable guitar player. This is taken from a sermon Wright preached in 2006, “The Road to New Creation.”

These paragraphs get at the core of Wright’s main theme in all of his writing — and at the core of what the book of Revelation has to say.

Religion in the western world has been less and less about the renewal of creation and more and more about escaping from this wicked world and going to a better place, called “heaven” – going there ultimately when we die, but going there by anticipation in the present through prayer and meditation. This essentially other-worldly hope and spirituality has fought its corner robustly against the materialism which has insisted that the only things that exist are things you can touch and see and money you can put in your pocket.

But if you turn Christian faith into simply the hope for pie in the sky when you die, and an escapist spirituality in the present, you turn your back on the theme which makes sense of the whole Bible, which bursts upon us in everything that Jesus the Messiah did and said, which is highlighted particularly by his resurrection from the dead. A religion that forgets about new creation may feel some sympathy for the battered and bedraggled figure in the ditch, but its message to him will always be that though we can help him a bit, ultimately it doesn’t matter because the main thing is to escape this wicked world altogether. And that represents a tragic diminishing and distortion of what Christian faith is all about.

The God in whom we believe is the creator of the world, and he will one day put this world to rights. That solid belief is the bedrock of all Christian faith. God is not going to abolish the universe of space, time and matter; he is going to renew it, to restore it, to fill it with new joy and purpose and delight, to take from it all that has corrupted it. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom, and rejoice with joy and singing; the desert shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.” The last book of the Bible ends, not with the company of the saved being taken up into heaven, but with the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, resulting in God’s new creation, new heavens and new earth, in which everything that has been true, lovely, and of good report will be vindicated, enhanced, set free from all pain and sorrow. God himself, it says, will wipe away all tears from all eyes. One of the great difficulties in preaching the gospel in our days is that everyone assumes that the name of the game is, ultimately, to “go to heaven when you die,” as though that were the last act in the drama. The hymn we’re about to sing ends like that, because that’s how most people have thought. But that’s wrong! Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world; God will make new heavens and new earth, and give us new bodies to live and work and take delight in his new creation. And the “good news” of the Christian gospel is that this new world, this new creation, has already begun: it began when Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead on Easter morning, having faced and beaten the double enemy, sin and death, that has corrupted and defaced God’s lovely creation.

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  • Nick Gotts

    :-)

  • christopher_y

    Credo in unum deum, Patrem omnipotentem

  • reynard61

    Well, I am certainly willing to concede that  *some* of the Christians that Revrend Ref was alluding to might have the institutional memory that your flock had/has (and my apologies for implying otherwise); but I’d be *very* surprised if the more politicized among them (i.e. those who watch nothing *but* FauxNoise, think that Rush Limbaugh is The Voice of God, that Ted Cruz is a shoo-in to be the next President and bleed Republican Red) could — if pressed — remember that 9/11, the Invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, Katrina and it’s aftermath, and the Mortgage and Economic meltdowns happened on Dubya’s watch; while it was under President Obama’s watch that Osama Bin Laden was knocked off. (Contrary to what some historical revisionists would have us believe…)

    As I said above; for that bunch, history (or at least what they perceive as history) did not begin until Inauguration Day 2009 — and, at least in their minds, it’s only gotten worse since.

  • Nick Gotts

    I don’t think you’re “a slave to your genetic make up and biological drives”. My genetic make up dictates that I am now long-sighted, but my reading glasses mean I can still read small print; and I am actually capable of not eating the last piece of cake, either out of politeness, or to avoid gaining weight. Otherwise I more or less agree with you, but I think the problem is more fundamental. The idea of libertarian freewill depends on there being some kind of soul or homunculus within a person, usually conceived of as immaterial, that makes decisions that are neither determined, nor simply a matter of chance – but then:
    a) How are these decisions made?
    and
    b) How does this inner entity interact with the body (including the brain)?
    That’s what I’m referring to when I say no coherent account of libertarian freewill has been given, AFAIK.

  • reynard61

    *Reverend, darn it! (Bad Disqus! Not letting me edit. You’ll go straight to bed without supper!)

  • Nick Gotts

    That better understanding has made possible larger-scale crimes and screw-ups – so care for the victims of these would have led a God that actually cared about human suffering to intervene. Nothing in the Bible, incidentally, supports any claim at all about any god, including its existence, unless you have good evidence of divine authorship, or dictation to its human authors. Which I don’t believe you or anyone else does.

  • Nick Gotts

    That’s one of the most hackneyed stories around, and aimed entirely at distracting attention from the real issue. How about preventing the flood in the first place?

  • Nick Gotts

    rather strict

    Into a bit of BDSM, was he?

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Um, what about the “great multitude that no one could number, from every nation”, who get in too? They’re mentioned (Revelation chapter 7) immediately after the 144,000 elect.

  • christopher_y

    That’s one of the most hackneyed stories around

    Which is why I just referred to the punchline on the assumption that everybody knew it. But if I were a theologian, or even a believer, I might suggest that the answer to why God didn’t prevent the flood in the first place was that it served some other, unrelated purpose.

  • J_Enigma32

    Of course I don’t. I’m an atheist.

    I just fine interpretive reading to be fun and interesting.

  • J_Enigma32

    Have you taken a look at the homeschool history books put out by A Beka Books?

    They’re ideology driven in the same way that La dottrina del fascismo by Mussolini is ideology driven*.

    (*) Behold, the inverse of a Godwin. More people need to pay attention to Mussolini and remember he existed; as a militaristic braggart described by Cracked as “a living cartoon character”, he fits the description of the modern right far more than Hitler does

  • Nick Gotts

    To repeat myself: excuses, excuses!

  • Nick Gotts

    Well, there’s no accounting for taste!

  • The_L1985

    “For the best part of the last two thousand years a lot of intellectual energy has been expended explaining why the things that would make the world better- no slavery, women’s rights, not killing gays, not killing people because they don’t share your beliefs, vaccinations and public education- are in direct contradiction of what god wants.”

    And that sort of thing is the original meaning of “Don’t take the name of YHWH in vain.” It doesn’t mean not to say things like “Oh my God!” or “God damn it!” but rather, not to put your own words and prejudices into a deity’s mouth.

  • The_L1985

    As a Pagan I don’t believe that any deity is responsible for deadly natural disasters. As it turns out, things like floods, volcanic eruptions, etc. are necessary for the earth to continue to support life. The most fertile soil in Italy is on and around Vesuvius. People settled in LA and other fault-line locations because the makings of a good life were so abundant there–clean water, wildlife, good fertile soil for growing food in.

    Without these forms of upheaval, there would be nothing to encourage life to continue to evolve. Life would stagnate somewhat, or even start dying off. Look how barren Australia, with its lack of volcanoes and tectonic activity, is in comparison to Italy or Japan*, where earthquakes and volcanoes are part of life. There aren’t active volcanoes in deserts as a general rule.

    ————————————-

    * Mt. Fuji, considered a sacred site to many Shinto, is an extinct volcano. Many early cultures in the Pacific “Ring of Fire” worshiped volcanoes as gods, because of their awesome destructive power and the fertility they brought to the land.

  • The_L1985

    I am eternally grateful that my indoctrination via ABB ended in middle school when the crazy started to hit. ABB’s high school curriculum scares me.

  • The_L1985

    Ooh! I’d join.

    I remember reading the book of Revelation in its entirety to figure out what the fuss was about, and thinking, “But there’s nothing explicitly about an Antichrist or the end of the world in here! The Beast is so obviously the Roman Empire!”

  • The_L1985

    I’d be very surprised if it weren’t.

  • Madhabmatics

    Same. One day I need to pulp and recycle all the ones left over.

  • The_L1985

    Life involves taking things for granted. Every time we set up dates with friends and lovers, go grocery shopping, or check out a library book, we are taking for granted that we will live to go on those outings and eat that food and read that book. We assume that we won’t be hit by the Proverbial Bus.

  • The_L1985

    My fiance has put it as, “Every time I hear about war or murder, I know the Messiah hasn’t come yet, because there is still violence on earth.”

  • The_L1985

    Talk about quote-mining. How do you ignore something from the very next sentence so blatantly? :(

    Not to mention that the only people I remember being cast into the lake of fire and the bottomless pit were the Beast and the Whore.

  • The_L1985

    First you should go through and scan all the weirder things for WTF Textbooks. It would be a good cause. :)

    I’d do it myself, if my old ABB textbooks weren’t long gone. (That, and probably scan some of the few really awesome stories from the readers. I don’t know why, but I rather miss the one about the fellow who saved the ants and bees, and the other story about the golden axe.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    And from what I’ve read, the Whore is a symbol of Rome / power / domination, not an actual human being.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    I always suspected the Whore was the corrupt priesthood.

  • David_Evans

    Yes, that was bad of me. It’s a common error, and I didn’t do it deliberately, but none the better for that. However:

    20:15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

    is enough to disprove the contention that God “will wipe away all tears from all eyes.” Which is, admittedly, Wright’s wording not Revelation’s.

  • Nick Gotts

    A lot of pagans surely have believed that deities were responsible for natural disasters, e.g. the ancient Greek pagans attributed earthquakes to the anger of Poseidon. But if deities don’t get the blame for natural disasters, can they consistently get the credit for natural fertility?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    There’s a book on Project Gutenberg that touches on Revelation. The author, who lived in the 17 or 18th century and so had no idea about premillennial anything, attributed the prophetic events within Revelation to a fracturing of the Roman Catholic Church and that there would be competing religions originating out of that schism, and so the foretellings of false religion, war, etc were thus all related to this foretold schism.

  • flat

    I understand relevations better now thanks to Fred Clark.
    I had trouble understamding and accepting the meaning and purpose of the book.
    And Fred’s left behind posts helped me to clear things up.
    Besides I knew of left behind before I discovered slacktivist.
    and I already understood it was a lot of nonsense.

  • flat

    I agree with your fiance.

  • Carstonio

    I meant the existence of objects and phenomena forever beyond human perception, and the idea of inherent meaning and purpose. It’s one thing to postulate the existence of those things, it’s another to use them as the basis for an ideology while effectively rejecting all other possibilities.

  • Marcion

    The American midwest is fertile too, despite a lack of volcanic activity. And large parts of Australia are ecologically vibrant as well. The barren parts are barren due to lack of precipitation, not a lack of volcanic activity.

  • J_Enigma32

    That’s the best possible use for those books. Good for the environment AND good for the future.

  • J_Enigma32

    When I was writing my novel, I took a glance through the ABB curriculum to see what my main characters would be learning in a dystopia where part of the power belonged to a group of people who thought like that would require those taught in private schools.

    I ended up having to turn the absurdity down. I worried people would think I was straw-manning and I didn’t want those accusations. Hell, I could barely believe it myself, it would strain my willing suspension of disbelief, and I come from the same line of hard SF writers whose humans are more alien than anything found on Star Trek. :-/

  • reynard61

    I once read one of their study guides. (IIRC, it was in a box of books that my mom got from one of her friends that was going to the recyclers.) Pretty disturbing stuff. I also regularly read the aforementioned WTF Textbooks as well. So, yeah; I think that I have a pretty good idea of how their ideology, theology, and their need to maintain tribal-identity-über-alles has distorted their perception of how the world actually works.

  • The_L1985

    Different Pagans are different. ;) just because I worship Diana, doesn’t mean I have to abandon belief in a heliocentric universe or 100-odd elements of matter.

  • SkyknightXi

    Then…any ideas on what a place where neither Fate nor Chance exists would be like? (Although, depending on how you view this place, you might have to twist the physical and metaphysical laws to the point that it’s the working definition of an Eldritch Location.) I don’t see all that much reason to believe that existence IMPLIES fate.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    The American midwest is fertile too, despite a lack of volcanic activity.

    Tell that to Yellowstone.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    That would seem to be the exception, not the rule.

  • SkyknightXi

    Could be a case of God genuinely thinking he’s omnipotent, but sincerely mistaken in that belief. (Although I do wonder if omnipotence and omnibenevolence are even capable of coexisting…How DO you prove your omnipotence in a way that DOESN’T harm anyone, since the “harm” is part of it? And let’s not get into how proving you can do something doesn’t prove you can abjure it, and vice versa…) To think of it another way, consider the Butterfly Wing effect idea. Allowing the flood might have been an inevitable side-effect of a bunch of boons set into effect 30,000 years ago (unless God was willing to change the physical and metaphysical laws of reality on the fly and many times, and I’m having a hard time imagining a more dread-evoking world; how do you TRUST that sort of God?), or teleporting the victim would have caused even worse woes, even just from how air would suddenly rush in.

    Nonetheless, there’s one very important thing to consider. Namely, the original Hebrews weren’t monotheists. Rather, they were henotheists. They believed multiple gods existed, but that only Yhwh really deserved their praise. The other gods (and, by extension, the peoples who existed for THEIR glory) could go rot, for all they cared. Omnibenevolence would have made no logical sense to them. Omnipotence (or at least suprapotence) was mostly in the sense of Yhwh being stronger (in the sense of muscle et al.) than all the other gods combined. That’s where the claim of Josue making the sun and moon stand still seems to come from. He wasn’t actually stilling the world’s rotation; rather, he was sending an injunction to the enemy city’s sun and moon deities. Namely, don’t come out of your temples and intervene on your people’s behalf, or Yhwh will turn you into paste. Stay there, and you have a chance of Yhwh letting you keep SOME servants.

    It doesn’t help that to most ancient peoples, the gods (Yhwh included) were mostly human kings taken Up to Eleven. Peevishness and pettiness included. They’re not here for you; YOU’RE here for THEM, and they have every right (and maybe duty…) to indulge their every whim the moment each one manifests. I wouldn’t be surprised if the ancient Mesopotamians/Hebrews/etc. thought self-centeredness was innate to life. I’m thinking here of a part of the Enuma Elish, where Marduk only creates humans to get the rest of the Anunnaki to stop whining about having trouble fulfilling all their tasks–and he does it with the blood of Qingu, the malevolent son and consort of Tiamat, as the material. That was probably a Just So Story about why humans could be so baleful to each other–their soul, essentially, was the soul of Qingu. But the other divinities weren’t all that much better (Abzu wanting to extinguish the Anunnaki because they were too noisy, a similar situation for Enlil sending the Deluge, Marduk only taking on Tiamat and Qingu once he was promised the right of absolute authority, etc.). I think the assumption, probably stemming from the kings’ tendencies, was that EVERYTHING tended to pursue its own interests, with no real thought of others, EXCEPT where it could draw punishment from someone bigger than you. And who’s going to punish Marduk (or Yhwh, or Baal-Hadad, or…) without risk of getting crushed in self-defense? Interestingly, this sort of thing was why Hammurabi’s Code, even with all its classism, was such a Good Thing for Babylon; it ensured that nobles couldn’t kill someone just for genuinely stumbling into them and the like.

    Come to think of it, if an omnipotent entity DOES bind itself to something like Hammurabi’s Code, or anything else, does that necessarily mean it has abjured its own omnipotence? This is part of why I’m not sure omnibenevolence and (fully implemented, at least) omnipotence can coexist–the benevolence effectively is a code of laws on the entity in question, yet the laws utterly preclude doing certain things.

    But back to the point, the idea of omnibenevolence is probably a newcomer for the Biblical tradition. Namely, perhaps not until the Hebrews’ contact with the Persians and Zoroastrianism. Of course, Zoroastrianism posited that the omnibenevolent Ahura Mazda had always been struggling to further contain the influence of the omniMALevolent Angra Mainyu. So, not QUITE monotheistic. Even the one sect that COULD be called monotheistic was that way just on account of positing a single parent for those two, Zurvan, who only let Angra Mainyu have influence because he’d made an oath that the one who emerged first would get jurisdiction (never mind that Angra Mainyu effectively cheated…). Ahura Mazda was still THE hero, even if he wasn’t omnipotent (yet).

    I’d say the problem, in the end, is the paradox of something being both omnipotent and omnibenevolent. How do you trust something that claims to be answerable to none to do the right thing consistently?

    {could probably have written this better}

  • SkyknightXi

    {flat look} FOREVER beyond? Your presence of fatalism disturbs me…(/Palpatine)

  • FearlessSon

    But not Left Behind, partly because that’s about the time they were published, and partly because they were too secular and Ellenjay’s version of the Rapture didn’t match exactly the one our pastor had.

    I suspect that since then, the popularity of Left Behind has shaped a lot of other churches’ views on the Rapture, such that the religiously conservative churches have gotten a lot more homogenized since then.

  • AnonaMiss

    Yellowstone is not in the midwest, and the area around Yellowstone is mountainous/not especially fertile.

    The correct natural disaster responsible for the fertility of the midwest was the descent of the glaciers a few million years ago

  • Dragoness Eclectic

    * Mt. Fuji, considered a sacred site to many Shinto, is an extinct volcano.

    I do not think you are using the right word there… Mt Fuji is about as “extinct” as Mt. Vesuvius.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historic_eruptions_of_Mount_Fuji#New_Fuji

  • Dragoness Eclectic

    Jehovah’s Witness? I know that’s one major sect that believes in temporary death until the resurrection & judgement, and no heaven until then.

  • http://talkingtocrows.tumblr.com/ VMtheCoyote

    (No worries – I doubt you intended to imply such, and I should’ve been less quick to infer it.)

    I think, in that case, there are two different sort of… sub-sects that we’re talking about. There’s the Republicans-who-support-a-Christian-Nation, and then there are the RTCs-who-believe-God-is-a-Republican. The end result is still terrible, whichever you look at.

    But the former, I’d say, are what you’re talking about. My grandmother comes to mind – love her though I do, she very much believes that Fox News is the absolute truth, Rush Limbaugh is the voice of God, and forwards e-mails about the descent of this country into awful terrible evil secularism, which is the kind of thing my mother believed, and Grandma was raised Episcopal and never got along with my mom’s religion. Fox News has brought her to that. That… is the Republican-Christian.

    The latter, though… they’re trickier. They have a grasp on history, they’re generally Biblical literalists, they’re the kind of folks who have a copy of Strong’s Concordance and bound letters of Luther and Calvin… but they very carefully divorce their two realities. It’s a cognitive dissonance that’s sorta mind-boggling. And that’s the Christian-Republican.

    I guess the distinction is important if you’re from one of the two sub-tribes, but probably not outside of that – the end result really is about the same.

  • http://talkingtocrows.tumblr.com/ VMtheCoyote

    That is deeply depressing, not least because it’s probably true.

  • Tony Prost

    ” why wouldn’t he allow us to function with more autonomy now that we
    have a better understanding of how the universe and the world work?”

    We have a better understanding because we ate the apple. We are being punished for that, not rewarded! God preferred that we have no understanding of the real world, but we put paid to that!

  • J_Enigma32

    Of course, dragging that wonderful little misogynistic gem of a story into the equation leads you to ask: what kind of a monster punishes the great-great-great-great-great(x10) grand children and beyond of parents for mistakes that the parents made?

    We *had* to have had some knowledge before it, though, otherwise God would never have allowed us to name his creation.


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