By Randy Limbird
Visions and dreams were once powerful forces in matters of faith, but through the centuries of Enlightenment and Scientific Rationalism they’ve fallen out of favor, even among those who otherwise might be considered faithful. Perhaps the least studied book among Christians in the New Testament is the book of Revelation, which is entirely based on a vision received by the author identified as John (who may or may not have been the John who wrote the gospel).
Revelation is full of strange imagery, such as a beast with ten horns and seven heads, and it’s hard to figure out how literally to take its description of end times. For centuries Christian have debated topics like the Rapture and doctrinal issues like pre- and post-millennialism. The final chapters’ description of the Final Judgment and the New Jerusalem are full of symbolism that are foreign to modern readers.
Part of the problem is that the modern mind tries to process visionary language analytically, which is a bit like trying to study art by breaking down the chemical components of the oils used and the physics of the brushstrokes. Visions work through the imagination, and a book like Revelation can only speak to us through our own imagination.
When it comes to such visions, I’m reminded of the classic book “Flatland,” in which a hexagonal citizen of a two-dimensional universe is lifted from his plane of existence by a three-dimensional sphere, who shows him the inner workings of his world. Once released back to “Flatland,” the hexagonal hero is unable to convey his vision to anyone else, and is branded insane.
The problem of being granted a vision of worlds beyond what we know is that we have to revert to a language that is known and familiar, so of course our descriptions fall short or, as in Revelation, they seem somewhat bizarre. How would someone from the late 1st Century A.D. try to describe a world revolutionized by complex machines, electronics and mass media?
When the vision involves a series of future events, the confusion is even greater. While perhaps some people may indeed receive a vision of what’s ahead, they may not be able to discern the near future from the far future. It’s like seeing several mountain ranges in the distance: We see them all as part of one range because we cannot see what lies between each range.
For me, the main point of Revelation is that history is marching toward a culmination, and is neither an endess cycle nor a climb up the ladder of manmade progress. The point is not so much how the end will unfold, but rather that there is both an end and a new beginning that lies ahead.
Randy Limbird is editor of El Paso Scene. Comments? Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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