Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea's throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
-T. S. Eliot


Bible: Revelation

You want ironic? Here's ironic. I am reading Revelation. According to Harold Camping, the rapture is happening tomorrow (May 21). Well. Let's see where he's getting this.

Okay. So the answer looks like numerology and speculation (St. Augustine, we are no longer as irritated with you. Clearly you were not as bad as we thought you were). That's my prognosis partly because I have looked him up, and mostly because after having just read Revelation and Daniel, what I have come away with is that while God gives us insight into the future through prophecy, being made aware of what will happen in no way changes the fact that que sera, sera. I don't feel like it's worth much more of my time to go into detail on why exactly I think what Camping does is wrong, so I'm going to move on to talking about the text itself.

Ending this portion of my studies with Revelation was a good idea. Well-played, curriculum. The best part about this is that ever since I went to Patmos two summers ago (where John saw the vision and wrote Revelation) I have been wanting to go over this book again. I think Revelation was my favorite book of the Bible when I was younger, and I think it was because I thought it was like a puzzle that I would be able to solve when I was a little older and a little smarter. Turns out that getting older and smarter meant my theory on cracking the Revelation code became clearly ridiculous, and I abandoned it for more direct study of other books. But my beginning is my end (more Eliot!), and so now I am back where I started. And truly seeing it for the first time.

The portion of Revelation I'd like to focus on is in chapter 5, when the scroll in the right hand of him who sits on the throne is presented to the host of heaven. I don't normally do this, but here's the text:

1 Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
 6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits[a] of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 9 And they sang a new song, saying:
   “You are worthy to take the scroll
   and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
   and with your blood you purchased for God
   persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 

This passage strikes me. Why does John weep? He is in heaven. He is looking at God the Father on the throne. In the previous chapters he has described the splendor and profound mystery of all that he is witnessing. What does John think is so important about this scroll that he would weep at the prospect of it remaining sealed? 

The sealed scroll did indicate a contract or some sort of document of importance historically. And sealed scrolls are frequent imagery in other prophetic books, namely in the Old Testament. Perhaps John figured the scroll contained some sort of revelation from God, and was heartbroken to think that he would never hear it. But he's already in heaven receiving revelation. Again, why does he weep? 

It occurred to me upon reflection that perhaps he is not weeping because the scroll can not be opened, but because there is no one in heaven or on earth who is worthy to open it. John is looking around: he sees angels, fantastic beasts, and God himself. But where is the one who is worthy? Where is Christ?

Could he have been expecting Jesus? Was he weeping because when the time came to open the scroll, he thought he knew who would be able to but was shocked when that person did not appear? The moment that Christ appears, an elder tells John to stop weeping because the one who is worthy has arrived. I could not help but think of the angel at the tomb: "He is not here! He is risen!" How often our eyes are redirected, our misery transformed into joy when we behold the truth. 

And that is why the Lamb is worthy, after all. Christ is able to break the seven seals on the scroll because he was slain and his blood was poured out. That sacrifice was required before any would be worthy to reveal the contents of the scroll in the hand of God. 

This passage just fills me with hope. There is one who is worthy. There is one who has covered all with a sacrifice, saving us and making it possible for us to discover what God the Father has written in the scroll.

As I wrap up my study this semester, I am thankful that I can look back on past posts and see a clear progression among the texts I have covered. I don't have to evolve toward perfection as Darwin predicted. Global communism doesn't have to foster world peace. I don't have to cut myself loose from intellect or morals to become my true self. I don't have to follow my id. I don't even have to try my hardest to be a man of faith, or a man of wonder, or even follow the Tao with undivided attention. While each author I've read this semester was trying to find a way for humans to raise themselves above our often sorry state, each of their theories is inadequate when attempted on my own power. Only the Lamb is worthy. Only through Christ's sacrifice can humans experience both redemption and revelation, and only through faith in his worthiness can I ever come to terms with all of my shortcomings and failures. 

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
   be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”


Bible: Daniel

I remember feeling guilty for being good at things when I was younger. That sounds pretty dramatic, and it wasn't really as bad as all that, but I think this part of my life demonstrates an interesting phenomena in the Christian world. When people would tell me I was particularly talented in some way, it would make me uncomfortable. I remember thinking things like, "Well, you're only congratulating me because you're not a Christian." And it's not like they were admiring me for a vice or something; it would be some harmless talent, like athletics or public speaking. But even as an elementary-schooler, it became clear that the non-Christian adults I knew were more impressed by the things I could do than the adults I met at church. 

For some reason Christians get weird when other Christians are well-liked by the secular community. We want Christian recording artists to be successful, but not too successful. We want Christian actors to be admired for their skill, but don't want them to be offered too much money for a film contract. We want our fellow church members to be blessed with healthy families and thriving businesses, but we don't want things to go too well for them-- in case, you know, it starts making them sin or something. And while the concern about the secular world's charms is a valid one, I think Christians are just plain afraid to do well by any standards but their own. 

Why must we feel guilty for being awesome? While reading Daniel this week, I was struck by how God was able to use Daniel and the other noble youths simply because they were the best at everything. The Israelites that Nebuchadnezzar selected were chosen for being "both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans." (1:3-4) 

Obviously, there were only a few among the Israelites who fit this description. But of those who did, Daniel established himself as even a cut above them. Daniel was the awesomest of the awesomest. And for that he was not brought low or prone to falling into pride. Rather, God used him to protect the Israelites while they were under a foreign king, and allowed him to rise in power among the Babylonians. He was only able to achieve these things in a foreign land because his pedigree and qualifications were undebatable even to Babylonian standards. 

In fact, being so darn impressive allowed him to be even more bold in his faith than he may have been able to otherwise. He makes a deal with the eunuch in chapter 1 so that the Israelites don't have to eat the king's meat; he convinces the guard ordered to kill him to give him some time to talk with the king. He even interprets three different dreams of destruction for three different kings, and is only rewarded for his work. Rather than being quickly disposed of, Daniel is the constant while three kings come and go. He is only persecuted once, and it's because other leaders are jealous of his power, not merely because Daniel is an Israelite. 

Daniel's example demonstrates that rather than being hesitant to excel in the secular world, Christians should be striving for excellence. Using our abilities brings glory to God in many more ways than we can imagine, and perhaps we are not demonstrating true faith when we hold ourselves back simply because no other Christians are excelling in our chosen field. If Christians can hold top positions in corporations and sell millions of albums and be the most-sought psychologists, we will be able to impact the world in far greater ways than if we only compare ourselves to other Christians. 

With Daniel as my guide, I will not hide my awesomeness from the world! In whatever ways I am gifted, I will work my hardest to be the best so that my skills and effort are a testament to God's greatness. And if the world can learn to love me for my skills, I will have a better chance of showing the world how to love my God.