Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

Let's face it. Revelation is a disaster. In fact, it is one disaster after another. It reads like one of those popular disaster movies about earthquakes, volcanoes, meteors, tsunamis, epidemics, or a new ice age. Revelation reads like a cosmic disaster film.

There's an earthquake, (8:5) "hail and fire mingled with blood," (8:7) a third of the living creatures of the sea dying, (8:9) a volcano polluting rivers and springs causing many humans to die (8:10-11) And that is just in six verses of Chapter 8! Wave after wave of divine and human violence fill the pages of Revelation. As much as Christians try to portray the book as one of hope, it is actually one disaster after another. ... mostly caused by the hand of God.

In the wake of the Haiti earthquake, there has been a lot of talk about God's role in natural catastrophes. Even news anchors could be heard asking, "Why did God allow this to happen?" There is no such theological hand-wringing in Revelation. God's angels blow trumpets of disaster and pour out bowls of divine wrath with no sense of remorse. My mother refused to read the Book of Revelation. It scared her to read about God doing such things.

The Hindus were wise enough to divide up divine responsibilities among their three supreme deities. They separate Brahma, the creator, and Vishnu, the preserver, from Shiva the destroyer. Shiva gets stuck with the job of doing all the bad stuff, which leaves the other deities' hands clean.

Christians don't have that neat type of compartmentalized God. We have one all-powerful and all-good God responsible for all of it. "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things." (Isaiah 45:7) A truly omnipotent God is a big PR problem for Christians. How do we deal with the destructive and wrathful side of God so clearly portrayed in Revelation?

Most Christians try to defend God, explaining how somehow all bad things contribute to a greater good. (Romans 8:28) I too trust in the providence of God, but most attempts at theodicy (explaining evil by vindicating God) leave me cold. They always sound like rationalizations and platitudes. I prefer the answer of my son, who has been though some tough times in his life. He often reminds me, "Dad, it is what it is!"

Revelation is what it is. Nobody attempts to rationalize a painting or a symphony. It simply is. God is what he is. (Didn't he say that in the burning bush? "I am who I am.") As far as we are concerned, God says, "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalm 46:10)

The world is a violent place, and it won't get any better as the end approaches. Jesus didn't sugarcoat it. He said there would be wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes until the end ... and then it gets worse! (Matthew 24:6-7) Bad things happen, and ultimately the buck stops with God. He is big enough to take it. So I won't make excuses for God, and neither does Revelation. So sit back and read the greatest disaster script ever written.

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