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
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.