I have a complicated relationship with the book of Revelation. I’m sure others of you who also went through a Left Behind phase can testify to that sentiment. From a lack of concern for our planet to unwavering support of the modern-day nation-state of Israel despite its policies, Revelation has been used by many in the religious right to justify stances that should be questioned. The realized eschatology of the book answers a longing in the human heart for someone to come and save us all. In Revelation, Jesus comes back to save us from all that’s wrong in the world and to usher in God’s reign of peace.
And with Jesus coming back, why should we try to fight the forces of wickedness in this world? Why should we try to save our planet or protect the oppressed or pass gun legislation? If we do live in the end times and Jesus could come back at any moment, our job should be to condemn the sinfulness of this world, prepare our spirits for the Second Coming, and nothing more. This world is already lost.
The pessimism about this present world inherent in this reading of Revelation (and, indeed, much of the eschatological passages in the Bible) is antithetical to the work that The Resistance Prays does. We can’t read Revelation like this; like our work doesn’t matter. The temptation, then, is to throw the book out and never look at it again.
But if we do that, we miss out on the symbolic power of the book and the powerful rhetoric that it uses to condemn not only the ancient Roman empire but also the present-day United States empire. We (rightly) cringe at the sexism and shaming of sex workers inherent in the metaphor of the woman of Babylon, but look at what happens in the text. As Babylon (a stand-in for Rome) falls, the kings and merchants who profited from Babylon’s demise lament that they can’t continue to profit. To put it in modern-day words, Revelation is saying that the politicians and corporate interests who fucked over a nation will only mourn at its end because they can’t make money anymore.
Today, there has been another shooting. We’re still waiting to hear details, still waiting to learn what the motivation behind the shooting was and what the weapon was. We will mourn with the people of El Paso as we have mourned with so many before. But unless we find some way to take action, we will be the Babylon that Revelation warns us about. Human bodies and souls will continue to be lost and the loudest cry that will go up will be from gun manufacturers and the NRA, lamenting that there is no one around to buy their weapons of war.
This sounds dire, of course. It’s Revelation. It’s meant to be end-times rhetoric. But I am of a generation that learned how to hide from a shooter while I was in school, the same generation that was brought up on Left Behind. I think that maybe it’s time we combine those two lessons and learn to use Revelation to reveal our true problems here in the United States and energize needed solutions. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of reading about new martyrs lost under the oppression of gun violence. Jesus has too many tears to wipe away already.