The Problem with John’s Revelation

Easter season in Year C of the lectionary brings with it a six week jaunt through John’s Revelation.  Since we are coming up on the fifth Sunday of Easter, I’m a bit late in bringing this to your attention, but maybe set a reminder for Lent 2019 with the note, “prayerfully consider a preaching series on Revelation during Eastertide.”  I suspect you won’t follow through on it, but you might.  Our people hear so much garbage about Revelation(s) in the popular religious culture, that it might behoove us to give them some decent eschatological theology once every three years or so.  I might consider such a preaching series the next time Year C rolls around, but I’ll have to spend some serious time working through a fundamental flaw in John’s Revelation that we will hear this Sunday.

As John describes the new heaven and the new earth that God will establish after Satan is finally defeated, he notes only one key characteristic:

the sea was no more

I am not a big fan of sand.  I don’t particularly enjoy spending a day sitting on the beach, but even I can appreciate the beauty of the waves crashing against the shoreline.  My children have grown up with the Gulf of Mexico coursing through their veins.

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A new heaven and a new earth that doesn’t have a beach is not a place that I’m keen to go.  Now let’s be clear.  I’ve got my tongue planted firmly in my cheek here.  I’m not suggesting that these images from John’s Gospel are to be taken literally.  Instead, I am taking umbrage with John’s projection of a pre-modern mythology of water onto God’s desire for the new creation.  Water was, for the majority of human history, a symbol of chaos.  This is why the first thing God does in creation is to send his Spirit to hover over the water.  The choas of the deep must first be overcome by order, and so a dome is established to push back the water creating the sky.  The waters that were left over had to be brought into order by being walled off by land.  The great flood of Noah was an undoing of creation: chaos once again reigned as the ark floated perilously over the earth.

The pre-modern world was very much afraid of the power of water, and so it is only logical that as John envisioned what God’s perfect new creation might look like, he couldn’t imagine the sea being a part of it.  In some ways, I think we can understand that.  We see the power that water can have when the flood waters rise.  We know that large bodies of warm water hold within them the potential energy for hurricanes of great magnitude.  We’ve seen the movies with great ships been tossed around like paper boats.  Yet, in our age, we have come to also understand the benefits of the sea.  The currents help create weather patterns.  There is increasing awareness of the possibility of tidal forces being used to create electric power.  And let’s not forget the great bounty of the sea that I so much enjoy about living life at sea level.  Perhaps a 21st century John of Patmos would have seen the new heaven and new earth in a much different way.

There is a lot of teaching potential in John’s Revelation. As you think about preaching a series on it three years from now, you might want to carefully consider how this  great socio-political apocalyptic vision of John intersects with our life today.  What did John see that was impacted by his time and place, and how might our vision of God’s dream be different today?  First and foremost, I’m sure that the new earth will have some sugar sand beaches and a sea as clear as crystal.

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4 thoughts on “The Problem with John’s Revelation

  1. And let’s not forget the great irony of water. The sea has been (and still is) that great source of chaos and fear. But water is also the most essential substance for life.

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