Monday, November 05, 2007

Cosmic Bible versus Earthly Bible

Please disregard the title of this post. I couldn't think of a good one because what I am writing is not a completely formed thought, therefore the title is neither helpful nor descriptive. Well, on with it then:

I had a few moments for a bit of reading this afternoon, and instead of picking up something mindless and light as one should on their day off, I picked up A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. (I know, "why would I do that?" I am a light weight geek. It has gotten me this far. Why change?) Anyway, I have never gotten to far into this book, but this time I am bound and determined to finish it. As I was reading his descriptions of the possible models of the universe that correlate with our current understandings, I found myself reflecting upon the book of The Revelation of St. John--the last book of the bible that has to deal with the end times. It is common to look at this book as a description of cosmic events at the end of time, the effects of which we will experience on earth. These description do not match up, however, with the smallest understandings of what modern physics tells us about the make up of the universe. This seeming contradiction often leads people down one of two paths: 1) to reject modern physics 2) to reject Christianity specifically or religion in general.

I found myself at this very fork in the road today, and neither of these paths seemed appealing to me. Then another thought occurred to me: what if scripture is not discussing the end of the cosmos in the Revelation of John, but rather the end of something else specifically oppressive empires, that is to say something earthly not something "heavenly". This would not be an unprecedented move for scripture. Walter Brueggemann has shown that the book of Exodus has a lot to do with nature and function of empires in relation to the people they oppress. Furthermore, it wouldn't be unprecedented historically. Empires do expire, despite the rhetoric to the contrary. Sometimes they even expire when the oppressed function like the lamb does in the Book of Revelation, i.e. Non-violent resistance as seen in India under Ghandi, and Apartheid under the influence of Arch-bishop Desmond Tutu.

I am not the first to have this idea about the book of Revelation particularly either. Pablo Richard's book Apocalypse seems to argue this point. But with the general question of does one follow a physics world view vs. a scriptural world view, the answer is yes. One must look at what the scirptures are actually talking about and what physics is actually talking about to realize what one thought was a contradiction was really two different conversations. Then again, I could be either full of manure and therefore wrong, or I could be manipulating the topics to fit a preconceived world-view of my own creation. Either way I'm wrong. What are your thoughts?

1 comment:

Stephen (aka Q) said...

What is the correct paradigm for reading Revelation? — now there's a big question!

Revelation has never been one of the texts that I frequently turn to. While I've studied many other books of the Bible in depth, I haven't done so with Revelation. So I can't say much about it except that different scholars propose different paradigms.

The whole genre of apocalyptic was intended to provide encouragement for God's people during times when they weren't faring so well. The genre depicts events in this world as part of a cosmic struggle between God and the forces of darkness, which sometimes (temporarily) appear to have the upper hand. Eventually, God will decisively right the ship.

But will God do so in this world or the next? Depends which scholar you read. These days, the evangelical scholar N.T. Wright insists that the eschatological texts refer to a this-worldly righting of wrongs.

I'm not sure that we can completely abandon an other-worldly fulfillment of God's promises. But with respect to Revelation — I doubt that it provides a literal road map to the events to come. I think it is a thoroughly metaphorical book: i.e., its descriptions of heaven and earth are both equally metaphorical.

So yes, I think your proposed interpretation is eminently defensible.