What do we think it would take, concretely, for “the kingdom of this world” to become a place where God’s will is done as it is in heaven? If we understand the book of Revelation as a vision of that transition, what does it tell us about that? That seems to me to be a central question raised by Revelation 11:15-19, our text for Sunday, November 14. [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are a couple more questions we might ask ourselves, or discuss in class:
The twenty-four elders call God the Ruler of Everything, and thank God for having “begun to reign.” Do we ourselves think of God as “reigning” now? What is our understanding of God’s “reign” in the world, human affairs, and so on? Does this Biblical statement seem to challenge our ideas, to reinforce them, to raise questions for us, what? How do we feel about that? Why?
[More theoretical – but something that comes up a lot] One way Christians have made sense of the evils in the human world (interpersonal, social, and political; abuse, injustice, corruption, war, etc.) is with reference to human freedom: God has given human beings the freedom to choose, or to reject, the good. How do we see the picture we have here in Revelation supporting that story? What do we see as the pros and cons of that arrangement?
The twenty-four elders describe the time of God’s reign as a time of divine wrath, and a time for judgment, reward, and destruction. How do we feel about that? [For instance: do we get some satisfaction from this? Or, the opposite? Fear? For ourselves, or for others? Or … ] Why? What does this tell us about ourselves?
[More personal] How consistent is this picture of God with our own understanding of God? How is it different from that understanding? How do we feel about those similarities and differences? What does that tell us about ourselves?
[A lot more personal] Are we ourselves looking forward to the reign of God? Why, or why not? Or, would we say we experience the present as “the reign of God”? Why, or why not?
I have been thinking a lot recently about the purpose and impact of Bible study, like the kind of Bible study we do in our class. And I have been recently reminded of this statement of Augustine’s, in his book De Doctrina Christiana, which is sometimes translated On Christian Doctrine but sometimes translated On Christian Teaching.
So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them.
Because of this, I have begun to think that we probably always could usefully ask ourselves: how does our study of this text seem to help us grow in the love of God and of neighbor? [Do we think we have succeeded in understanding it yet?]
Image: “The Conversation,” Edgar Degas, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons