Thursday, April 27, 2006

Apocalypse! Live Reports at 10!

Had lunch with Abuna Don today, and the topic of the European Union came up – whether it would cohere together or come apart. I opined that, if it did come apart, it would be the end for a lot of pop eschatology books, since the EU always represents the Ten Kings of Revelation 17. The Abuna figured that would be a very good thing indeed.

On reflection, so do I. I don’t have much of a dog in the eschatology hunt; I just don’t pay that much attention to trying to figure out the signs of the times, at least not beyond the obvious. There have been a thousand little apocalypses (would those be apocalettes?) since the Ascension, and there may be thousands more before the Big One. Prophecy reminds us that times like these were both seen and foreseen by those who came before. As for the end of the world, what difference does it make? Whether Christ returns in my lifetime or not, I’m still obligated to leave one of these days. If I can manage to stay prepared for that, I assume the end times can work themselves out however they will.

What bugs me about a lot of “prophetic fiction” is not its questionable theology but its banality. I read one recently that started out as a fairly decent political thriller. The end, which involved the direct intervention of The Holy One in history, just came out flat and dumb. The Left Behind series started out well enough – not the best writing in the history of mankind, but it could keep my interest. By the time it got around to the Second Coming, it was just boring. Like I say, the reason isn’t the theology, but I think it is a direct result of the theology. People that I’ve met who take Revelation as a road map of the future seem to have a good, high view of Scripture, but a pretty low view of mystery. A falling star means an asteroid, or a nuclear bomb, or a fireball from space; the locusts of the Apocalypse, with stings like scorpions, are just mutant insects; the lake of fire is, well, a big lake of fire.

And when the things of God get described like items in a tourist brochure – “If you’ll look to your left you will see the infamous Valley of Hamon Gog[1]. Please keep your hands inside the vehicle and don’t feed the vultures.” – they quickly lose their power and significance. The Dread High Lord of Hosts becomes just another good special effects guy. Movies are even worse. The epic battles of The Lord of the Rings are epic because they are battles of men – the events are bigger than their participants. The cosmic battles of the Last Days lose their grandeur because – reduced to human visual and literary terms – they are so much less than God.

And I suspect that when the Day of the Lord finally arrives, it will be far more terrifying and glorious than anything I as a mere human can verbalize or imagine. People ask why John wrote the Revelation to himself in such cryptic terms. One reason, obviously, is that many of those descriptions tie directly back to the Old Testament in their symbolism – the desert locusts of Joel versus the cosmic locusts of Revelation 9. The other reason he didn’t describe things more clearly, I think, is that he couldn’t. To refine those descriptions is to lessen and cheapen them. Mystery leads to wonder, and wonder leads to awe, and awe leads to a healthy fear, and the fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom[2].

[1] Ezekiel 39.
[2] Psalm 111:10