Revelation Rule #6: Use Your (Disciplined) Imagination

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The one like a "son of man" from John 1:9-20

(This post is part 7 of my 8 part series on interpreting Revelation faithfully. You can read the other posts in the series here.)

Revelation Rule #6: Use Your (Disciplined) Imagination.

All of us can name a story that completely swept us away into another world. It may have been The Fellowship of the Ring, the Harry Potter series, or The Chronicles of Narnia. All of these books have the tendency to pull us into vibrant, fantastical environments where our imaginations run rampant with new possibilities. There's a reason why we dress up as these characters for Halloween or cosplay: we aren't ready to leave these worlds just yet. Once you finish a book like this you have what's called "book hangover."

Revelation has the capacity to produce "book hangover." In fact, it's designed to suck you in to John's visions. Revelation scholar Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza says it best:
"Exegetes and theologians still have to discover what artists have long understood: the strength of the language and composition of Rev. lies not in its theological argumentation or historical information but in its evocative power inviting imaginative participation. The language and narrative flow of Rev. elicit emotions, reactions, and convictions that cannot and should not be fully conceptualized and phrased in propositional-logical language."*

Don’t be afraid to immerse yourself in the narrative. Stare at the vivid colors, listen to the peals of thunder, smell the burning incense, feel the vibration of beating wings, join the faithful voices raised in adoration. Revelation is designed to be a sensory text, so go ahead and get swept away in it.

At the same time, however, resist the urge to stoke an overactive imagination. Anchor your imagination in the interpretive rules, particularly rule #1 (Revelation cannot mean what it was never meant to mean). If we let our imaginations run too wild, the Beast becomes the Pope and 666 becomes a micro-chip inserted into our skin. The first century Christians did not have the context to understand these modern things, nor did John intend for them to be interpreted as such. In the words of G.K. Chesteron, “Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.”** Let's not add to the wild (and unfaithful) commentary already too readily available.

What kind of books have the tendency to sweep you away? Does thinking about Revelation as this kind of imaginative literature make it seem more appealing to read?

* The Book of Revelation: Justice and Judgment (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 22.
** Orthodoxy, 13.

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