Stories matter. They give meaning to our lives. But how we tell them, and how we receive them, matters too. At the start of COP26, the New Testament reading set for today is Revelation 21:1-6, which has abused by fundamentalists who see our world as dispensable: God is going to replace it anyway. But this is to fundamentally misunderstand what we are looking at.
The Book of Revelation is not a foretelling of the end of the world, at least not in the sense that is usually understood today. It is apocalyptic literature, that is, a revealing what is going on right now—at the time of its writing—beneath the surface. John is writing to a minority community experiencing persecution at the hands of a global super-power, and he writes in coded form to give them hope.
The first heaven and earth have departed; a world of new possibility has taken their place; the sea is no more.
That is: Ouranus and Gaia, the sky and the earth, parents of the Titans who are, in turn, parents of the Olympians, have gone; and so has Thalassa, primal sea goddess, who created Aphrodite—whom the Romans fashioned Venus, their principal patron goddess—from sea foam and the castrated genitals of Ouranus, after Gaia took revenge on his hatred of their children by persuading their youngest son, the titan Chronos, to castrate his father...
That is: the Greco-Roman world, and in particular the cruel-hearted Rome, are about to be re-purposed, for a new story, full of new potential. A story in which the principal deity, the god of the Jewish people, is not distant but now makes his home among human beings, wiping away their present tears.
This vision is primarily fulfilled through the conversion of the Roman empire, and the establishment of the Church in Rome. It is a clash of stories, of mythologies, of meaning-making. It led to a world-ending and world-birthing transformation of the world as those who heard the Revelation knew it.
So as we face up to catastrophic climate change and injustice, needing stories to help us imagine and birth a new world for future generations, we must return to Revelation 21, among other stories. But we must do so in a responsible manner. Unworthy gods are passing away, including the ones we have made in our own image.