To supplement our ongoing tour through the World’s Worst Books, I’m taking some time on Fridays to remember what the book of Revelation, and other apocalyptic literature in the Bible, is really all about.
… I finally found what I was looking for in Revelation 7, where the author describes a world without a cosmic lottery, a kingdom in which the suffering are not forgotten. Writes John:
I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” … He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. — Revelation 7:9-10, 15-17
… I wondered what exactly John saw and heard to convince him that the kingdom of God includes people from every nation, tribe, people, and language, people from the north and the south and the east and the west. … He must have seen faces of every shade and eyes of every shape. He must have seen orange freckles and coal-colored hair and moonlike complexions and the lovely flash of brilliant white teeth against black skin. He must have heard instruments of all kinds — bagpipes and lutes and dulcimers and banjos and gongs. He must have heard languages of every sound and cadence, melodies of every strain, and rhythms of every tempo. He must have heard shouts of praise to Elohim, Allah, and Papa God, shouts in Farsi and Hindi, Tagalog and Cantonese, Gaelic and Swahili, and in tongues long forgotten by history. And he must have seen the tears of every sadness — hunger and loneliness, sickness and loss, injustice and fear, tsunami and drought, rape and war — acknowledged and cherished and wiped away. In one loud and colorful moment, he must have witnessed all that makes us different and all that makes us the same.
Every now and then, we get lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the world as God sees it, a little revelation that gives us the hope to look beyond the confines of our current environment. … The fact is, while the Bible certainly speaks of God punishing the wicked, no single passage on judgment can compete with the scope and size of John’s description of the redeemed. With this in mind, I returned to John’s vision often, sometimes daily. Even on days when I wasn’t sure that God exists, when I wasn’t sure I loved him or even liked him much, I knew that I cherished this image of him. I don’t know anyone, believer or skeptic, who doesn’t long for a day when God wipes every tear from every eye, when “there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev. 21:4 NASB). Even the faintest inkling that this might be true can keep you going for one more day.