Monday, May 17, 2010

Patmos Idol

I think that unconsciously I hope to have the opportunity for a death bed repentance. Not so that I can have my fill of carousing (though I love saying carousing) and still guarantee safe passage to the next party but rather that I can be able to have some sort of 'fullness of vision' over my life so that I see more clearly the errors and ditches I was too often face down in. I have the unhelpful view that I will actually have greater clarity at the end than I do now.

In the middle of the final chapter in the Book of Revelation we have John making himself explicitly visible as the recipient of the vision for the last time in the text. He says,

I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!"
Oops! Maybe John should have glossed over that embarrassing little detail. It could have stayed between him and the angel (maybe the angel put the screws to him though to keep it in . . . if you take away one word . . . ). Even at the very end and perhaps especially at the very end idolatry lurks over the entire vision of God's new heaven and new earth. What would it have meant had John ignored the angel or that the angel would have accepted John's worship? The book of Revelation is about worship and how it orients the realities of heaven and earth. And yet the one who receives the closest taste of true heavenly worship, this one ends up on the brink of idolatry (twice; cf. 19:10). With this little illustration it is hard to deny that from beginning to end the Bible is riddled with people confused or plain ignorant over what worship is. Jesus said in John's Gospel that "a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth." Was this ever not the case or plan of God?
Have you ever tried to think about something that literally made your head hurt? (most worthwhile books perform this upon me at some point) We prefer to have our thinking resolved (or at least I do . . . that's why my head starts hurting). We tend towards the possession of understanding rather then the act of understanding.  But if we have any interest in thinking about God our thinking cannot come to rest. Because wherever our thinking rests will be the place that an idol is built.  For the most part we are fairly clear what our idols are.  There is money (or whatever symbol of economic control you choose . . . oh say a 7000 lb bronze bull outside of Wall Street will do!).  There is our nation (I am sure you have heard of the issues at Goshen College).  There is our coffee cup our laptop case our library shelf our clothing labels our hood ornament our theologies our rituals our ornate crosses our Bibles our . . .   So we know these things, for the most part.  But still we gather our idols at the cost of the new heavens and new earth.  We continue to carry on commercial trade in the great whore of Babylon (she is pretty damn sexy riding that beast and all).  We know these things, maybe even John knew it at that moment as well but we are so pathetically desperate in the hopes that we can get a piece of the pie, a little bit of God.  That is the idol right, a little bit of god.  Everyone knows its not God but its my piece of God.  My piece of God's power.  My piece of God's pleasure.  My piece of God's wrath.  My piece of God's protection.  My piece of God's status.  My piece of God's love.  My piece of God's truth.  That's what happened to John.  He was (rightfully) overwhelmed with a piece of God's truth and so he was willing to take hold of that as God, complete, final, praise God
So what can keep us from being carried along in the relentless torrent of idolatry which is as much as anything the unifying strand of biblical theology.  We are the prodigal children seeking to own the gift of God at the cost of abandoning our relationship with the ever-giving God (H/T Jean-Luc Marion). How can we worship in spirit and in truth?  What is true worship? It is simple.  It is right there in the text of Revelation. Maybe, in the end, like the angel reaching over to stop us from yet another idolatry, worship is a gift. This may be our way out from the endless construction of idols.


Rich Griese said...

I am also interested in the study of very early christianity. I am currently reading, Walter Bauer's _Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity_. I have studied the topic for almost 20 years now. I have read a number of other of the great works on this topic like Strauss, Harnack, Schweitzer, two additional Bauers (FC & Bruno), and many many others, but this is my current read.

I am always interested in meeting others that are interested in the study of earliest christianity to have ongoing conversations and share reading lists, etc... you can contact me by email at

Do you have specific aspect of the study that interest you, that you might be interested in discussing, and perhaps having on going discussions on the topic in general? Feel free to email me to talk about it.

My main interest is the very earliest period. Perhaps from the modified Messiah idea that may have begun around the time of the Maccabean revolt through the beginnings of christianity itself, till the Council of Nicea in 325CE, and perhaps a few years after that as some of the results of that council took effect.

On my main site I don't post my christian history posts, since most people have no interest in christian history, so I try to make my main site more of a general purpose one. But I do post on christian history topics, and collect resources and links that others interested in the subject may find useful. I am happy to share these with folks that are interested in that kind of thing.


Unknown said...

Hey Rich,

No plans to read that work in the near future. I hope to get to Williams' Arius: Heresy and Tradition at some point though. All the best.