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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: Revelation 4-7

If I were to walk into a room, find a sheet of paper, pick it up, and start reading; it would be difficult for me to make sense of what I'm reading unless I have a context for those words. Let's say, for instance, that the piece of paper I pick up reads as follows: "(1) eggs, (2) butter, (3) milk, and (4) brown sugar."

If I read that those words without knowing the context, I could arrive at several difference conclusions about the meaning of those words. I could say, for instance, that the words are part of a shopping list and represent a list of unrelated items that need to be purchased from a grocery store. That would be one logical conclusion. I could also say that those four words are part of a recipe that identifies items that come together to make something tasty. That would also work. I might even suggest that perhaps the words represent a list of what someone is allergic to. That could also be yet another possibility. Without knowing the context of the words, it would be dangerous for me to decide what the exact purpose of the list was.

There's a similar dynamic involved in today's reading from Revelation – for at face value we don't know exactly what the context of those words is. We don't know, for instance, whether those words are a form of poetry spelling out one person's dramatic version of the world. We don't know for sure whether those words were meant to be a subversive political message that was communicated through coded language. Nor do we know for sure if those words were intended to predict a literal unfolding of the future. Lots of folks have different takes on the matter.

There are those, for instance, who read today's passage quite literally – and conclude that when Revelation 7 says, "I heard the count of those who were sealed: 144,000! They were sealed out of every Tribe of Israel" that it means there will only be 144,000 individuals who will be sealed/saved.

I think it would be a mistake to read that passage literally. It's hard for me to imagine God limiting God's unlimited love to such a concrete – and limited - number. There's got to be another context for those words.

All of this has me wondering about the ways you and I might be prone to take things out of context as well. Perhaps we overhear a portion of a conversation that a loved one is participating on the phone, or we glance at an open email on a friend's computer, or we arrive at a table in the middle of our friends' conversation and make assumptions about what the words they are saying mean without knowing exactly what it is they are talking about. That can be very dangerous.

Whatever the specific circumstance is for you, I would advise you to slow down and take some time before you jump to conclusions – conclusions that may misinterpret the meaning behind the words you first encounter.

Til next time …

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