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Saturday, September 18, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: Revelation 15-17

Staying with this week's reading schedule has been a HUGE challenge for me. I find it challenging because the God of wrath and judgment portrayed so graphically within the pages of the Book of Revelation is barely recognizable to me. The God of Revelation seems so much different than the God of compassion, mercy, and grace that I've spent a lifetime getting to know.

So what could account for the kind of portrayal of God and Jesus contained within the pages of Revelation?

The traditional view of John suggests that Revelation was written by John the Apostle when he was exiled on the island of Patmos during the reign of Domitian. That means the "vision" would have come to an individual/community that had (1) lived through tremendous persecution, and (2) was now tucked away and seething with anger and resentment against those responsible for their plight. Given that background, it is easy for me to understand how such a "vision" would have emerged: a vision of judgment, and a vision of restoration in particular.

The challenge for readers of Revelation is to keep the specific historical/social context in mind and not get too swept away with this one revelation. It's important to integrate the other aspects of God that we know so well with the images contained in Revelation.

This reminds me - once again - of a theme that I've mentioned frequently during the course of my blog. That theme has to do with how our individual locations can shape our perceptions of God. If we grew up with an absent father, for instance, we can make God into our perception of the ideal father we never knew. If we grew up with a parental figure that was angry and vengeful, then guess what? We might tend to mold God into a parental figure who is primarily angry and vengeful. And if we are hungry for acceptance and a strong sense of community, we might even shape God in ways that are consistent with the beliefs of the faith community that offers us acceptance and community.

In other words, as finite human beings many of us are going to grasp on to one-element or dimension that most works for us and hold tight to that one dimension. While that approach is completely understandable (and I'm just as prone as the next person to be "guilty" of this) the important thing to remember is that God is so much bigger than the one dimension we cling to. God is bigger than just judgment. God is bigger than just vengeance. God is even bigger than the expansive notion we like to think of as love. No matter what or how we think, God is bigger!

My challenge for us today is to take time to rest in the presence of a God who transcends all boxes we might stuff God into. And as you encounter difficult images of God contained in places like the Book of Revelation, take comfort in three important words: God is bigger …

Til next time!

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