by Gary Hall.
John of Patmos is both seer and artist. Artists invite us to linger over things we might not ordinarily see or choose to gaze upon, gradually revealing to us what is not easy to communicate. Learning to trust what art and scripture can reveal is an art in itself, an art which begins with attention without understanding, and a capacity to abide with unresolved tensions. In the strange apocalyptic landscape of Revelation we may just learn to see differently and therefore to inhabit life differently, once we have mustered the kind of courage and curiosity which led Lucy through the wardrobe, or Alice through the looking glass, or which led Neo to take the red pill in order to see The Matrix unveiled.
The Apocalypse is not safe territory. Traces of paranoia and dreams of vengeance cling stubbornly to the contrasting and more appealing images of joyful restoration beyond mourning and crying and pain. In the seer’s imagination, the way of the Lamb and the way of the Predator sometimes mingle uncomfortably – and this very fact, this ambiguity, may be a clue about how the prophetic drama can energize and guide us.
If we set aside our instincts to resolve or avoid every tension, and if we let go the fantasies of final, conclusive battles, then we can discover a text that reflects back a world where beauty and horror, wonder and sorrow always co-exist. This is the world we inhabit, and Revelation can help us abide creatively with the tensions experienced by all who dare to trust in the risen Christ and the restorative work of God, whilst facing the indisputable facts of everyday grief and horror, and the contradictory impulses which lurk within us and our institutions.
When we turn away from the mesmerizing drama of cosmic warfare and the sinister lure of militarized force, we notice the irony of a slain lamb on a throne, revealing the blasphemous heart of death-dealing cultures with their deceptive ideologies of redemptive violence, or wealth as salvation. Alongside the Lamb are his comrades who are neither deceived nor allured, who (despite all they have suffered) know that living is more than self-securing, even in the face of death. Their trusting is their triumph. Their faithful witness to the martyred Lamb is a gateway to eternity. They love life, but they do not love their own lives too much (12.10-11).
In contrast, there are those who entrusted their futures to the idolatrous empire of the Predator and her economy of meaningless luxury (18.11-15), who now mourn the collapse of Babylon/Rome. Amongst the mourners are rulers whose own power depends on alliances with the death-dealing superpower, and merchants who have grown rich through plunder and a corrupt economy built and sustained at devastating cost to human lives (18: 13). Then there are other mourners for whom we may feel a trace of sympathy, for surely these seafarers are just ordinary workers trying to earn their keep (18:13-17)? It is not so simple; for without them the corrupt, dehumanizing system cannot flourish. Their collusion, whatever the reason, sustains injustice and devastation. More to the point, their concern is not for the prophets and saints and every victim whose blood stains the ruined city (18: 24), but with securing their own lives (18: 17-19). They do not love life after all; they love their own little lives too much to take a costly stand alongside the Lamb.
The prophetic art of Revelation can guide us in the ways of peace and justice, mercy and hope when we let go our desire for conclusive victories, final solutions, so that we can focus instead on the art of navigating the tensions and ambiguities of everyday living. Decisive outcomes are not in our own hands. By grace, however, we can discover what it takes to live through transient victories or defeats in hope, faith and love, without being derailed by the persistence of injustice, threat and destruction.
The company of the Lamb is for those who are learning to not love their own little lives too much, so we can go on learning to love life in all its fulness.
A version of this reflection is included in the 2023 Bible Month booklet on Revelation, available at https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/the-bible/bible-month/
3 thoughts on “Revelation and the love of life”
What a good example you give Gary for learning to trust what art and scripture can reveal. Thank you for revealing your understanding of Revelation.
What I find incongruous in Revelations is the negative, judgmental view of humanity, and God, that is portrayed there. For me the death of Jesus was the result of speaking truth to the powerful, and the death of a martyr who was “slain” because of his message about God’s coming Kingdom. Anselm decided the Crucifixion and Resurrection was part of a deal, an economic exchange, to appease a “God” who was demanding retribution: Where is the love in that! Luther took the idea further and saw reflection about the Crucifixion and Resurrection as a means of self-purification: Where is the love, our concern for others, in that! For me God is not a Bookkeeper or an omnipotent being on high, but the compassionate God who suffered as Jesus was Crucified and who suffers still when we see injustice and unfairness. That is where the love is!
I was just thinking how useful this would be for Bible month and then saw the link. Great insights. Thank you!