Revelation: How many of us really want the truth?

I really wanted to tackle Revelation like a hard-hitting journalist. I was going to dig in and get specific. And then I got intimidated, so now I’m going to intimate more like Oprah. I tried to be witty, there, but I’m not making an excuse for my laziness. Anyway, here goes…

I’ve had dreams before that leave a sort of… halo, for lack of a better word, for hours. They might have been disturbing or just too strange to comprehend. Knowing how a brief, vague dream can affect me, I can only imagine how John’s revelation must have made him feel. I’m not sure my sanity could stand up to such a vision. Revelation always frightened me. It’s gory. It’s violent. It’s weird. And I can also sympathize with the skeptics, here. Be honest – what would you make of someone saying these kinds of things today? If Revelation doesn’t frighten you, it’s maybe because you don’t take it seriously or literally or because you’ve learned to read it without emotion. I’m all for objectivity, but I think it can lead to a disconnectedness sometimes. I know I use this coping mechanism and occasionally find myself disturbingly unmoved by… well… something moving.

Anyway, here’s the thing about fear: I’d rather know what I have to fear than have some abstract, dark shadow looming overhead. one of the messages I hear in this book is that while it is true that some of us will live painful lives and die painful deaths, the circumstances of this life will only have power over our next if we let them. Maybe that sounds like that disconnected coping I was talking about earlier, but I’m not trying to minimize anyone’s suffering. In a bad moment, maybe that promise doesn’t feel like comfort. How many of us can really look past this current life to find the comfort promised in the next? I hope I can when I’m facing something terrible. Revelation does end in a beautiful and comforting way, but it’s pretty hard to see past all the long-term pain and suffering and oppression. Still, we live with all of those things now. I’m not sure we’ll recognize these prophecies when we see them. I’m not even going to guess about how they might appear to us. What I don’t doubt is the intensity and importance of Revelation’s call to live righteously. Whether I understand or can reconcile these things and no matter what my fate, I believe that I should live as lovingly, honestly, faithfully as possible.

All that being said, there are some things I struggle with in Revelation. I can accept the truly awful things written about the world, the fantastic, odd things that will come to pass, but some of the things that it seems to say about God are harder for me to accept.  “…the great wine press of the wrath of God…” (Revelation 16:19) sounds horrifying. Is all that blood really necessary? Also, in 21:15 we’re told that Christ will rule with a “rod of iron.” My discomfort on this one stems, I suspect, from my feeling that people should not hold that kind of power… that it’s corrupting. But of course, we’re not talking about human nature here. I think it challenges our trust. How willing are we to be ruled? It also challenges us to reconcile obedience and freedom.

Oh, dear, no one is going to be able to follow this wandering-brain post. Ah, well. Read Crystal’s most recent post, instead. It is as cohesive as mine isn’t and very challenging. 😊

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Biblical Marriage and Alienating Language

Yesterday, a few members of the men’s group at our church stood up to speak to the congregation about a study they recently completed. They were enthusiastic about it and, between the reading and fellowship, reported improvements in their romantic, parenting and work relationships. One of the things they talked about was following the biblical model for marriage; a partnership in which the husband takes a leadership role and the wife takes a more submissive role. Raise your hand if you read the last part of that sentence and started feeling irate, or at least uncomfortable. Yeah… me, too. I’ve thought this through before, and the idea of submission always stops me cold. Now, they did make a very important distinction yesterday, saying that submission is not for a man to impose; rather, it’s a gift that a woman can choose to give. Still, I was hearing that word louder than all the others. I’m still not entirely comfortable with this issue, but I do have a few thoughts. Before I dive in, please understand that I am not giving advice and am only exploring how it might affect a committed, loving couple who have mutual respect for one another.

What does the word “submissive” conjure for people? A submissive dog is one who pees whenever it is afraid or excited. A submissive woman might bow her head and quietly endure abuse. This is not a trait that ANY woman wants to embody, so I think we have to get past the loaded nature of the word and discover what’s really intended.

So, how else can we understand what this means? We do use “submit” in other contexts. A student might, for example, submit an assignment to a teacher. This is a voluntary action. The student gives their work to someone whose opinion they value (ideally 🙂 ) to read it and weigh it. The Vice President advises the President, but doesn’t have the same authority and we don’t call him submissive. I think in marriage it means choosing someone you love and trust completely to consider your family’s best interests. It means offering your opinions and support and allowing him to make decisions (heavy responsibility). It means gracefully refusing to be an obstacle. And here’s the other thing: If I choose to empower my husband to make decisions, that doesn’t mean that he can’t submit to me in return. He may decide that what I want is the best thing, even if it isn’t what he wants. I chose to marry someone I trust and we do run into situations sometimes where I really want something and he really doesn’t. Is it a good thing for me to push and push until he caves? Not usually. 🙂 OK, that’s never actually worked well for me. It damages the relationship. In instances where he’s wanted something that I really don’t want, he almost always respects my wishes. 

The sad fact is that women are still subverted in negative ways all the time. Feminism is such a big part of the culture that I grew up in. Any whiff of “inequality” sends us scurrying in the opposite direction, but honestly, that isn’t at issue, here. We aren’t talking about stripping power or rights from women – we’re talking about a completely voluntary way to structure a personal relationship.

Any comments? I know it’s a touchy issue…

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Some Light Spring Reading

Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, the grass is this vivid, oh-so-alive color and I’m reading… about fire and pestilence and death. Welcome! 🙂 Crystal and I are currently reading and blogging through Revelation. I never know quite what to make of this particular book and am looking forward to her insights (no pressure, friend). 

I’m not going to go point by point through my notes because we’d be here a very long time. Actually, in the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t make any because I’m trying to read for big picture. A few details did catch me this time through, though, so I’ll give you two detail paragraphs and then a broader impressions paragraph.

First, the first few chapters are devoted to specific churches, addressing their merits and failures and urging them to be true. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I never recognized that those letters are not, fact, addressed to the churches but to the angels of the churches. That made me wonder if the promises of reward for doing well in each letter were intended for the people of the churches or the angels.

The other big thing was the war in heaven referenced in Revelation 12:7. This access that the devil seems to have to heaven is curious to me. I remember having similar questions while reading Job. And if he can get up there, can he affect or tempt the people who reside there? The idea of violence in heaven is so contrary to the heaven in my head.

The overall reflection this reading led me to might seem off-topic. I’m going to ramble here and I apologize. Reading Revelation got me thinking about what happens when we write something down. The thing we’re writing about often becomes… romanticized or diluted. I mean, I could write about a terrible, flat time in my life with words that would make it sound almost appealing. Words add drama and color. We read about wars, for example, and we get political background, read some personal stories and maybe those words give an impression of purpose and energy and drama. But I wonder. If our current situation is any indication, I’d say wartimes are, in fact, full of anxiety, depression, struggling to find purpose and just the usual busyness of day-to-day living. Other times, the full impact and pain could never be adequately expressed. When I’ve done something wrong, giving the thing words takes away some of the sting. I’m not bragging, by the way. It’s a form of justification that can be really dangerous. After all that, what I’m really wondering is whether the events detailed in Revelation will seem as dramatic and recognizable and all-consuming when they happen. How will people handle it? I think there’s an idea out there that everything will stop when the apocalypse begins to unfold. But people will still go to sleep and wake up. They’ll still eat and get dressed and worry about their kids. 

What will it be like?  

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Prophets Project – Ezekiel 36-48

Wow. Some weird stuff this week. I struggled to make sense of much of this most recent reading and am really looking forward to my pow wow with my study partner later tonight. I may have another entry coming, but in the meantime, here’s a brief reflection on Ezekiel 36:33: “Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse  you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt.” A cross reference pointed me to Isaiah 58:12: “And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”

My aforementioned study partner, Crystal, actually brought this restoration-of-ruins theme to my attention some time ago and I feel like it’s worth thinking about. Now, I don’t know exactly when in our world’s sequence of events this will happen, but it is fascinating to me to think that something humanity created could be worthy of God’s special attention and promises. Maybe this promise is specifically designed to encourage the people and isn’t really a reflection on the greatness of those structures or the people who made them, but I’m not sure it matters. In this fallen and discouraging world, this strikes me as a reassuring reminder that people can do awesome things. That sounds simple and obvious, but I think we often focus on our unworthiness and on the detrimental things we’ve introduced into God’s creation. We are unworthy, but when we forget that we can please God, that he created us with incredible capacity and values our contributions… well, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.

And now my three-year-old is climbing all over me, pushing keys and telling me to “Stop typing right now!”, so I suppose I’ll sign off here. But I hope this encourages you, as it did me, to keep your chin up. 🙂

    

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Sinhibition

Heheh. You like that title? My genius brain just came up with it. 😉 This post is days late, and despite having extra time for reflection, I don’t have anything earth-shattering to report (sorry, Crystal). Ezekiel chapters 25-36 reveal a lot about what God dislikes. In chapter 28, there’s a “lament” about the King of Tyre that many people think is a direct Satan reference. Maybe it is, but I’m not sure we should make that presumption. Regardless, it is interesting reading if you have a moment. I would love to know what you think.

But now to the meat of this entry. Also in chapter 28, Ezekiel told us that one of the lamentable things about the King of Tyre was that he considered himself a god. Ezekiel 28:2: 

“…And you have said, ‘I am a god,
            I sit in the seat of gods
            In the heart of the seas’;
            Yet you are a man and not God,
            Although you make your heart like the heart of God—”

That last line really catches me. What exactly does it mean to make one’s “heart like heart of God-“? It is easy to pass this passage off as personally irrelevant; big, bad, uppity ruler gets a bit too cocky. But I think it has wider significance than that. How many of us assume that we are the rulers of our own lives… despite our professed faith, despite being shown again and again that we are at the mercy of circumstance beyond our control? I do. All. The. Time. You wouldn’t think arrogance would look like timidity and insecurity, but for me, that’s exactly what it looks like. Confused? Bear with me. I recently watched a YouTube video about a woman who talks at one point about giving her life to God. Her conviction that this life is no longer hers to do with as she wishes, but God’s – to do with as HE wishes, made me hang my head. Ezekiel also chose this path of complete surrender. At least, that’s what it looks like from where I’m standing. I, too, have pledged my life. But here’s the thing: I HOLD BACK. I even know when I’m doing it. I pray and say what I think are the right words, but as I’m praying, I’m putting up these little walls of defense around things that make me uncomfortable. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do that. “God, make me open and willing (mostly maybe).” It is appallingly arrogant to say, “Yes, God, my life is yours,” and then put restrictions on it. I am saying, in effect, “I know better. I’m directing this little orchestra and if the flutes want to all play different notes at different times… well, whatever. I’m too lazy to fix it. Besides, I’d hate to offend the players. That would be uncomfortable.”

I know my sin, and yet every fiber of my being fights repentance. Why is that???? Why can’t I just bulldoze those defensive walls? I don’t know exactly how to do it, but I do know that I desperately want this dam to break. I want to know how it feels to let go of those inhibitions, of my need for control. Unreserved, unashamed, untethered.

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Prophets Project – How can we be just and compassionate?

These chapters in Ezekiel are absolutely full of intriguing ideas worthy of reflection, but I’ve been mulling over one idea in particular, lately, and Ezekiel offers me the perfect opportunity to work through it (or at least attempt to do so).

God is just. We read about Israel’s experiences throughout the Bible and some of those experiences (and predictions) are terrifying, painful, ugly. We can also see that people often suffered as a result of their decisions. Justice, right? But then there are passages where the authors focus on God’s compassion. He takes pity on us. He “spares” us despite our unworthiness (Ezekiel 20:16-17).

If I believe that God is just and compassionate, then I have to believe that these two traits are not at odds. Ezekiel 20: 44 caught my attention: “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” Hmmm… there’s something here that changes my understanding of justice, but I can’t put my finger on it. Perhaps we should focus less on being just toward each other and more on seeking justice for God? Because, after all, to serve God is the only true way to serve each other. Sorry for the rambling. Just trying to get a handle on this train of thought.

People are told to seek justice (see Isaiah 1:17, for just one example), which sounds simple enough, but I feel befuddled when I read Proverbs 28:5, which states: “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.” Ahem… I’m afraid this does not bode well for me, because I’m still confused. How can we know what is just and when to be compassionate and relieve suffering when that suffering seems… well, fair, based on someone’s actions. For example – a parent has an adult child who is broke and living on the streets because of a drug habit. They’ve made every effort to help in the past. The child is in her current predicament because she made bad decisions. Is it good and just to take that child back into the parents’ home and help her get back on her feet? She certainly qualifies as poor and oppressed. Or should she bear the weight of her choices? You can’t make that call without more info, right? I feel like there are always extenuating circumstances… heck, they may go all the way back to Adam and Eve. God has the advantage of being able to see all of those variables and factors. I do not. Do such things matter? How can we know how best to serve God and our fellow man?

I know I’m overthinking this. I know that if our actions are borne out of love and we are seeking God’s will, we’re doing what we can. But doesn’t that feel like an oversimplification sometimes? In a decision-making moment, things can seem overwhelming, confusing, weighty.

I think maybe I just muddied the waters. 🙂

Lacking a neat moral-of-the-story, I’ll leave you with a couple of verses from my reading that I found powerful. This moving plea can be found in Ezekiel 18:31-32:
“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

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Prophets Project – Ezekiel

If you’re following our joint prophets study, Crystal and I recently finished the book of Isaiah and are now blogging through Ezekiel. She suggested that we focus on cross-references, which is not something I’ve spent much time doing before. It should be interesting. 🙂

Ezekiel, so far, is mind-blowing. When the book opens, he is an exile in Babylon and warns his fellow Jews about the tribulation to come as a result of their disloyalty to God. His visions are so strange. I took the time, though, to create those visions (as specifically as possible based on his descriptions) in my mind. That sounds simple, but it taxed my feeble brain. Nonetheless, it enriched the reading tremendously.

When I looked at the cross references, the ones that most intrigued me were those that referenced other Old Testament prophets. Some of the imagery Ezekiel uses, which seems so unique, is paralleled in Jeremiah and Daniel. Interestingly, these three prophets were contemporaries. Were they aware of each others’ prophecies? Were some of these images already relevant or particularly meaningful to that culture? The answers to those questions interest me because I’m always looking for evidence that points toward the supernatural. I know that it is difficult to validate matters of faith and that what seems like strong evidence to me can be argued six ways from Sunday. Doesn’t matter. I’m still always on the lookout and can’t seem to help it.

A few other things that caught me. In chapter 3:1-3, God instructs Ezekiel to eat a scroll with His words written on it. The scroll contained “…words of lamentation and mourning and woe.” (2:10), and yet tasted “…as sweet as honey.” (3:3). This is so interestingly dissonant to me. It reminded me of “…the bread of adversity and the water of affliction…” of Isaiah 30:20 and speaks, I think, to the idea of refinement through fire and that pain and suffering can be blessings, if they cause us to repent.

Again in chapter 3: Compare and contrast verses 16-21 and 22-27. Ezekiel is told that it is his responsibility to warn people who are behaving wickedly and give them the opportunity to repent. If I apply this to my own life… well… I stink at it. Telling someone that they are in the wrong is a very difficult thing to do. To complicate matters, verses 22-27 tell us that Ezekiel will only be free to speak to the people when he is speaking directly and specifically for God. So, how confident can we be correcting the behavior of others? Cross reference with Matthew 7:3 and any number of other New Testament verses. That isn’t a rhetorical question, by the way. I’d love to hear what you think. My takeaway is that I have to be careful and prayerful, but if I truly believe, the only loving thing to do is to communicate what I know. Scary and hard.

In chapter 4:12-15, God tells Ezekiel how he should prophesy and includes an instruction to eat his food baked on “…human dung.” Read for context, but there’s no getting around the ewww factor here. Anyway, Ezekiel argues with God, saying he’s never “defiled” himself in that way and God concedes. Now, we’ve seen God respond this way before, but how crazy. First, crazy that Ezekiel would argue with God (at least at first blush), and second, that God would (hope this isn’t too blasphemous) give in. Now, I’d wager that, in fact, many of us know what it is to argue with God, but seldom do I feel like I’m in the right. It’s a reminder, though, that if I feel called to do something and don’t want to do it, it is good to seek further guidance. So often, I have ignored good impulses, when perhaps there were other ways to fulfill those calls.

Okay, I promise that I’m winding down… so much good stuff this week! Just a couple of parting thoughts. In 6:9, God states that He has “…been broken” by the disregard His people have shown Him. I know I’ve talked about our ability to affect God before, so I won’t elaborate, but wow. Powerful words.

Finally, I think that 7:19 is so very relevant. “They cast their silver into the streets, and their gold is like an unclean thing. Their silver and gold are not able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord. They cannot satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it. For it was the stumbling block of their iniquity.”

Even though I know that satisfaction is not possible except in Christ, I look for it here all the time. I try to satisfy my hunger and fill my stomach with that which never can.

God, let our desire, our hunger, lead us to you. Amen. Continue reading

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