Thomas Jefferson considered it “merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.” Robert Ingersoll called it “the insanest of all books.” Even Martin Luther, who knows a thing or two about being offensive, found it “offensive.” And though some modern theologians call it the “least important” book in the Bible, the Googlemind has a rather higher opinion of its significance:
Google hits for various canonical books:
— “Book of Luke” or “Gospel of Luke”: 414,000 hits
— “Book of Matthew” or “Gospel of Matthew”: 517,000
— “Book of Genesis”: 685,000
— “Book of Love”: 827,000
— “Book of Records”: 893,000
— “Book of Revelation”: 1.14 million
So whether or not it’s theologically “important,” the Book of Revelation clearly has our attention.
I Googled the phrase “The Book of Revelation is the most” to see what word comes next. Some favorites:
controversial–mysterious–troubling–important–detailed–thoroughly literary–dynamic, powerful, awesome, devastating–dispensational–thoroughly Jewish–puzzling, cryptic, frightening–misinterpreted–unusual–beautifully orchestrated symphony–extreme–hard to understand–fascinating–beautiful, majestic–bewildering–hopeful–comforting…
…book in the Bible. And now that Barack Obama has been proven to be the Antichrist — the Beast having chosen to reveal himself through the Illinois Lottery — we’d better take a look at the book that has warned us about him lo these many years.
A brief synopsis, for those of you who haven’t (yet) had the pleasure of devouring Left Behind:
John of Patmos had himself a “vision.” It starts with Christ appearing with eyes of flame, feet of bronze and a sword coming out of his mouth. He explains to John (in an understandably sword-muffled fashion) that he, John, should watch carefully so he can describe the vision to the churches.
John is taken before the throne of God where he sees twenty-four chosen ones and four Creatures covered with eyes, giving glory to God. Seven seals on seven scrolls are opened by a lamb. As each is opened, various things are loosed on the world—war, plague, death, earthquakes, and (my personal favorite) really outrageous food prices.
Sun black, moon red, stars fall, sky disappears, mountains flung, 144,000 people are marked with the seal of God.
As the lamb opens the seventh seal, everyone takes a thirty-minute break. Thank you, unions.
Seven trumpets sound, bloody hail and fire, sea turns to blood. Locusts that look like horses with lion’s teeth and sting like scorpions fly out of the abyss and for five months sting anyone who do not have the seal of God on his or her forehead. One third of humankind is killed.
John eats a scroll, and a war breaks out in heaven. A dragon is defeated. Seven vials of wrath opened. An angel tells birds to feast upon dead human bodies. The beast and the false prophet are cast alive into a lake of fire. The rest are killed with the sword of Jesus. A thousand years pass, God sends Satan to deceive us all, and whoever isn’t found in the Book of Life is cast into the Lake of Fire as the rest ascend to glory.
Imagine if you will my shock and surprise upon learning that John’s home island of Patmos has been the Mediterranean’s premiere source of hallucinogenic mushrooms for thousands of years.1
For many years I wondered not so much at how anyone could believe such unhinged ravings, but why they would even want to—why such a blood-soaked festival of flying monsters and burning flesh appeals to anyone. And it does, you know. The End of It All is not simply accepted by fundamentalists—it is yearned for.
William Miller, founder of the Adventist movement, predicted that the end of the world would come on October 22, 1844. When it didn’t, his followers referred to it not as “The Day of Phew!”, but as “The Great Disappointment.”2
When yet another, later prediction maddeningly passed, the first one had to be renamed The First Great Disappointment. Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
Many denominations, including Sarah Palin’s Assemblies of God, capture the yearning for the end perfectly by calling the coming end of the world “the blessed hope.” And she almost got the nuclear codes.
But I’ve come to empathize with the yearning to some degree, even if I don’t share it. It isn’t just about the triumph over death—it’s the triumph over injustice and evil. No matter how bad and unfair things seem, says John of Patmos through his shroomy haze, the wicked will one day pay in the most horrible way possible, and you’ll get to watch.
Compared to most of humanity, I’m a shar-pei sitting in the warm, fat lap of obscene privilege. I have never been the impotent victim of genuine injustice. I have recourse when I’m wronged, and I’m rarely seriously wronged. But to be a slave in the 17th century, or an impoverished Irish peasant in the 19th, or a Sudanese villager in the midst of civil war, to be shit upon relentlessly, to live in fear of an oppressor and to know you will die unvindicated for whatever happens to you—to live like that, imbued with our innate sense of fairness and to see none of it—I can see how Ultimate Fiery Justice would exert an irresistible pull. I’ve even seen the need for ultimate justice ( “Without it, Hitler would never pay!”) offered as the reason to believe.
I have considerably less empathy for those who define evil so misguidedly that the burning flesh they dream of smelling is not that of a slaveowner or warlord, but of the gay, the Jew, and the atheist. Not that I don’t know where they got such a grotesque and immoral definition of evil (HINT: See 1000-page preamble to Revelation).
Perhaps the most revealing moral question we could ever ask is whose shoes you’d like to see disappearing under the surface of that eternal lake of fire, with the prize going to those who say “none of the above.”
Okay, there it is. I had predicted the Bookin’ Through the Bible series would end last February (a date now known as The First Great Disappointment), but I proved infinitely distractable. Maybe that’s God’s problem as well—Armageddon’s on the calendar, but it just keeps getting pushed back.
1“Magic mushrooms hit the God spot” (Australian Broadcasting Corp)
22000 years of end-of-the-world predictions
UK Channel 4 documentary on the continuing worldwide spread of end-times beliefs
(Click on the bible study series link in the sidebar to thumb through the rest of the series.)