Monday, 13 May 2013

Subverting the violent interpretation of Revelation

A traditional Evangelical reading of the book of John's Revelation seems to assume that the violent God of the Old Testament, after being temporarily assuaged by Jesus' death, returns with the big guns to teach evil doers who is really the most powerful. I've never really thought about the violence inherent in that framework, and never wondered whether there could be a non-violent understanding of the book's message.

So coming across Paul Nuechterlein's Nonviolence and the Book of Revelation was an eye-opener that will take some time to ponder.

I absolutely love his comments on Revelation 5:4-7: where John looks up expecting to see the Lion of Judah -- "the hoped-for warrior who devours God's enemies" -- but instead sees the Lamb that was slain. The Lion is never mentioned again and the Lamb becomes the dominant actor, subverting the dominant human hope for divine vengeance.
"The terrifying violence that we so often face in this world is decidedly not God’s violence but the violence of empires under the deception of Satan, the dragon. And God’s defeat of that violence is not one of superior firepower, of simply having more of the same kind of violence to subdue that of the empires. No, God’s defeat of violence is to expose it through the love of the Lamb slain whose self-giving love lets itself be slaughtered by the violence, and the Lamb’s resurrection shows its power of life to be victorious. Disciples of the Lamb follow not in a hope that there would be a different kind of victory someday, a victory in which the Lamb became a Lion and devoured all its enemies. But followers of the Lamb believe that his slaughter and resurrection have already won the victory, such that we wait with endurance and hope, following in the Lamb’s loving nonviolence if we must, until the day when Satan’s violence finally becomes its own defeat, collapsing in on itself."
There is still a lot of violent imagery in Revelation that I think will be difficult to reconcile with Nuechterlein's thesis, but seeing the Girardian subversion of violence implied by this verse inspires me greatly.


Rosie Perera said...

Two other works I'm familiar with on a non-violent interpretation of Revelation are: Triumph of the Lamb by Ted Grimsrud and Unveiling Empire: Reading Revelation Then and Now by Wes Howard-Brook & Anthony Gwyther. I've been helped to seek out non-violent interpretations by exposure to the Anabaptist perspective.

Matt said...

Thanks Rosie. I've heard good reports about Ted Grimsrud, but never come across the others. I might add them to the reading list, but I've got to get through Violence Unveiled, and then Belousek's "Atonement, Justice, and Peace" first.