It’s almost too much these days to even turn on the television news, open the morning paper or log on to a news website. Most of us are on edge and we can’t handle another bad news story.
The Boston Marathon bombing. The kidnapped trio of women in Cleveland. The Mother’s Day parade shooting in New Orleans. Children shooting children. The trial of Jodi Arias.
Our morning news contains more violence than the typical summer action-packed blockbuster films that will soon be forced upon our already too violent culture.
Amid this violent news, I delivered a lecture on the book of Revelation. Revelation is never an easy book, but to teach this book that can be understood in such a violent manner amid such a violent time is difficult.
During the lecture, I offered the little that I really think I know about the book of Revelation. I spoke about how I believe Eugene Peterson’s thesis that the book of Revelation can only be understood as poetry is spot on.
I talked about how I think the book is aimed at churches that have become way too accommodating and, thus, how important the book is for us today.
I addressed all the bad theology that has come from poor interpretations of the book. I even used one of my favorite cheesy church lines: “There is a lot of theology about this book that needs to be ‘left behind.'”
When I finished the lecture, it was time for the question-and-answer portion. A very studied gentleman raised his hand and asked me to talk a bit more about accommodation in the book.
As I started answering, he interrupted and said, “No I want you to talk about the accommodation of the author, how he accommodates violence in the book to convey the truth of God.”
And there is something so true in what he said. I actually really like the book of Revelation when it is appropriately read, but there are certain images in the book that seem to depict a very violent God.
There are passages found in this book that fit much better in some of the Old Testament’s images of God. There are images of God in this book that are difficult to connect with the picture of God Jesus gives in the Gospels.
I tried to get around answering the question and then I was honest and asked for a moment to reflect on the question. In that moment, I realized this: The author of Revelation uses violent scenes and images because he does not have anything else to use.
He wrote and spoke in the only language he knew and that language offered nothing appropriate except for images of war and violence.
As upsetting as that is, more upsetting is the fact that today we still have not been able to develop a language that is truly about peace. We have not been able to imagine ourselves out of this violent world.
And if we can’t imagine another possibility without violence, how in the world are we supposed to bring about the kingdom of God?
The author of Revelation could not write in nonviolent terms because he could not even begin to imagine what that world could look like.
We can’t truly speak in nonviolent terms because we can’t even begin to imagine what that world could look like.
One of the questions we seem to ask over and over is what is the aim and call of the church today? Maybe this is it, maybe our part of this great story is to imagine and create better images – images of nonviolence, peace and the true Kingdom of God.
It is time for us, as the church, to answer the call of God and to begin to imagine beyond the violence, to imagine the world of lion and lamb together, of swords turned into plows and of Kingdom come.
We can’t act it until we speak it. And we can’t speak it until we imagine it.
Griff Martin is co-pastor of University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, La.