As I walked from the office to the train this evening my mind began to compose. This happens to me on a fairly frequent basis. Typically, my morning musings bear the fruit of more shareable ponderings, but tonight I feel that my evening stroll through that odd blend of mind and spirit was worth pondering further. Especially in light of the face that as soon as I sat down on the train and opened my email my thoughtful wanderings were validated by today’s Bible in One Year article by Nicky Gumbel. The title was Turning the World Upside Down and the three main section headings were God can bring success out of apparent failure; God can use you in spite of your circumstances; and God can make the ‘worst of times’ the ‘best of times’.
I had begun my evening walk thinking about the book of Revelation in preparation for my Monday evening study group’s impending discussion. It occurred to me when I began thinking about it, that the biggest difficulty with the book is the question of its source and purpose. Some would say that John’s images were written as he observed them, that the telling of them has been preserved through the ages, and that we can expect those things to play out much the way that he describes. Others would have us believe that all that was written in his book (and in many others for that matter) is subject to interpretation. When we read it we need to read it with an understanding that it was written at a much different time in history, for a vastly different culture, and with a very purposeful motive in mind.
As is so often the case, I was bothered by a feeling that I should choose between these positions. Literal reading or interpretive…
It didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that it’s not only OK – but correct – to accept both opposing views at the same time.
As I’ve written before I believe that we exist in a world of paradox that is paradoxical by design. The examples are uncountable and go back as far as the creation of humans ourselves, regardless of how you may feel it happened. ( Of course I think it was a combination of purposeful Devine creation and evolution – what else would I think?).
My thinking goes sort of like this…
I was born both physical and bound by the finite realities of this world. I was also born spiritual, transcending the physical limitations of this place.
Both at the same time.
A variety paradox.
Perhaps John writes about what he saw in his visions. And in the process of trying to share a spiritual experience he uses the only tools at his disposal. He uses physical, worldly images to describe a spiritual vision of a coming spiritual experience.
Perhaps some of what he writes about are dreams of what might be in the physical world.
Perhaps John couldn’t tell them apart.
Perhaps he lived in a place and time where the distinction between a physical and spiritual reality was much less important than it is to us today.
Perhaps he lived in a time when it was acceptable to use language that relates to the physical world to describe a purely spiritual experience.
Perhaps, if we keep a really big picture in mind, it ends up not really mattering which truth is real. We begin to understand that we can accept both versions as true and real at the same time.
When I opened Nicky’s email I received a form of validation for my strange musings!
Jesus turned the world upside down!
By dying on the cross in the manner he did, he experienced an unimaginably humiliating defeat. At the same time; by dying on the cross in the manner he did, he experienced an unimaginably stunning victory.
Defeat and victory in one act.
I can’t count the number of times it’s happened in my life as well.
But then – out of that failure – success.
Both failure and success.
True and untrue.
Then – when I think I’m not in any kind of position to do God’s work here on this earth – something happens.
I respond without thinking.
I do what I was placed here to do.
And somehow, a circumstance is altered in a significant way.
Often not for me – but for someone else.
I help them without intending to.
One action ends up being something else entirely.
Victory from defeat.
All that from John through his most bewildering book.