Apocalyptic Hope

6 Jan

For the past 7 months, I have been going through what is hands down the most difficult time of my life. In every possible way, and in every possible area, I have been continually stretched beyond what I thought were my maximum capacities. Emotionally exhausted. Relationally strung out. Spiritually dry. Physically…well, let’s just say that each of the previous categories takes its toll on my physical health as well (it’s been awhile since my days as an adonis on the university swim team). Anyway, it feels as if God keeps pushing me deeper into the desert, and telling me to leave my canteen behind, at a time when I am most thirsty.

St. John Writing the Book of Revelation

In one of my seminary textbooks that dealt with the subject of genre in biblical interpretation, there was an interesting chapter on Apocalyptic literature. Basically, apocalyptic stories in the Bible are the ones that read more like a sci-fi movie script than what we would normally expect from the Bible. John’s Revelation would be the most easily recognizable apocalyptic book. But, with all of its crazy images and vivid descriptions of weird beasts, apocalyptic literature communicates a fundamental message–hope. And in particular, hope when it is most needed, when it seems as if God has abandoned His people.

My textbook put it this way, “Apocalyptic addresses a serious crisis of faith. If God is truly in control, why has he allowed things to get so bad here on this earth? In reply, apocalyptic proclaims that God has not turned his back on the world but will radically and unexpectedly intervene and introduce a universal solution that will solve all problems.” God comforts those in the most dire of circumstances not by promising to alleviate their present suffering, but by calling them to remember His certain future victory over their circumstances. Those suffering may feel overwhelmed, but they will not be overcome. God’s good purposes will not be thwarted.

Perhaps God’s purpose in communicating to us through apocalyptic writing is to cut through all the emotion of suffering and get right to our hearts. There is something about the style of the message that renders it more palpable to the one enduring suffering, as opposed to a simple appeal to logic.. Right now, it’s not very likely that a treatise on the sovereignty of God would convince me to rest in that sovereignty. In fact, when I didn’t know if my unborn baby girl would live or die, I was definitely not comforted by a friend’s words: “Remember that God knows whether or not He will let your daughter live.” I was infuriated by his lack of sensitivity to the situation. God knows our frailty, and communicates accordingly. He doesn’t defend His permission of evil in the present, or describe in detail the intricacy of His secret and sovereign will over all situations, including our hardships. Instead, He reminds us to look at the big picture and see that He will prevail over the greatest evils and suffering. It is certain, we just don’t know the timing.

Just as God doesn’t justify His letting us suffer, but uses apocalyptic literature to pierce through our emotions and communicate hope to our hearts, so I have been encouraged by songs that speak in the same fashion. William Cowper’s ‘God Moves in a Mysterious Way’ on the Indelible Grace VI album. Josh Garrels‘ songs ‘Rise’ and ‘Revelator’ remind me of this truth. As well as Ben Shive‘s ‘Rise Up’. These songs move me to look beyond my hardship, and to find hope in God’s sure victory over all evil and suffering in this world, even my own. God, through using a specific genre of literature, is drawing us out of ourselves and our own narrative, in order to re-center ourselves on His narrative.

This isn’t any different from the explicit teaching of the New Testament, either. Artists don’t have a corner on truth or expressing hope. The early church waited for Christ’s return, their blessed hope. Paul wrote to Titus, giving instruction on how to live in this present age with all its sin and suffering, saying that salvation frees us to live godly lives, “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13) Peter wrote to churches dispersed throughout what is now Turkey, saying, “therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13)

Our hope is a hope for the present, but not as a hope for rescue from our current circumstances. Rather, it is a hope of a future that is so certain, and so glorious, that it gives us the strength to endure our present suffering. When in distress, God calls us, through apocalyptic literature, to put our hope in the certain justice that will be realized at Christ’s second coming. When He comes, every tear will be dried, every wrong will be made right, and every heart and body will be healed. That is our hope. It gives us assurance for our future, while at the same time inviting us to cry out “how long, o Lord?”

This apocalyptic hope creates contentment in present suffering, assurance of future vindication or healing, and a longing for the fulfillment of that promise.

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One Response to “Apocalyptic Hope”

  1. Brian W Johnson January 8, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    Mike, I enjoyed this post. I see great biblical wisdom in pointing us to hope in future glory. I’m praying for you brother. I’m also immensely enjoying writing together.

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