John Bennison Words and Ways | 2013 | June

The Body Politic of God, Part II

Who Is the Whore of Babylon?

"Whore of Babylon & the Seven-headed Beast," - 19th century Russian engraving

“Whore of Babylon & the Seven-headed Beast, ” 19th century Russian engraving

[Note: this is Part II of a 2-Part Commentary that draws on the Book of Revelation in the canonical New Testament. Part I is here. These comments assume the reader has some familiarity with the text of Revelation, available here. A pdf format of this commentary to print and/or read is here.]

 

Preface

When a recent record-breaking twister ripped a large swath of death and destruction through the town of Moore, Oklahoma, some of the survivor’s comments in the face of such a catastrophe were utterly predictable. In a region where conservative religious types predominate, when the capricious and indiscriminate acts of nature do their thing, the unshakeable religious belief system of many could be summed up in one man’s stoic reply as he emerged from his storm shelter to find all his earthly belongings wiped off the face of the earth.

“The Lord giveth,” he quoted from the Jewish scriptures, “and the Lord taketh away.” (Job 1:21)  Apparently for him – and a whole lot of other viewers of his Youtube phenom that popped up in the wake of the storm — the fourth person of the Trinity is Mother Nature. Either that, or at least the common assumption – without rational explanation – is that whoever or whatever God is, He’s powerful enough to create and disburse deadly tornadoes at will.

For others who may be reluctant to equate anomalous weather phenomena with deliberate (and ultimately inexplicable) providential design or some inscrutable mystery we’re not to question for some reason, the devastation wrought by the tornado might still have appeared to the locals to resemble something akin to the end of the world.  Add this disaster to earthquake, fire, pestilence, plague and flood, and one could readily think they were witnessing the end of the world and apocalyptic struggle depicted in the biblical book of Revelation; seeking to make sense out of that which seems to make no sense, but with the assurance the righteous will somehow triumph in the end.

But again, how exactly will God, once and for all, set things right? When will the “sorrow and weeping be no more,” and the “tear wiped from every eye?”  (Rev.21:4)

“In God’s own good time,” is the usual cop out. After reinterpreting over and over again the signs of the times in Revelation’s spectacular tale, the imminent end which that writer’s fantastic dream foretold has been repeatedly put on indefinite hold.  But then it merely begs the question, why the postponement?

How exactly will God, once and for all, set things right?  When will the “sorrow and weeping be no more,” and the “tear wiped from every eye?”  After reinterpreting over and over again the imminent end that has been repeatedly put on indefinite hold, it merely begs the question, why the postponement?

In Part I of this two-part commentary it was noted how often succeeding generations in human history have turned to this allegorical tale, in order to interpret the signs of the times and reassign the player’s parts; all in an effort to find hope and meaning nonetheless in such difficulties. But as a piece of political commentary, John’s thinly-veiled critique of the Empire’s evil ways and their eventual doom at the hand of divine judgment and vindication for God’s righteous ones, it leaves one to ask in each successive age who is the “Whore of Babylon?” (Rev. 17:1-2) Who is the anti-Christ? Who is the one who tramples on the innocent ones and perverts God’s ways?

 

First, the nature of “Revelation,” versus  the Book of Revelation

What is a “revelation?”  What do we mean by the term? Try this out for a working definition: It is an encounter that may occur when the search for meaning and understanding is met by the gift of a sense of meaning and new understanding.

What is it that is revealed?  Whatever it is, is it something new that jolts us out of where we are, and propels us forward? Or is it only a convenient reinterpretation of the same old story; with nothing more than a change of names, times and places?

Presumably, a revelatory moment is something that comes to someone from outside one’s own conjuring. More so, it results from an encounter that alters the way in which one subsequently views the world. Consequently it can challenge us, and threaten to change our way of thinking. It can upturn one’s conventional way of seeing things and subvert our predispositions, prejudices and inclinations. More important, it may even lead to a change of heart. And its authority is precisely in the fact that it is not simply a self-propelled reaffirmation of how we have conveniently arranged our understanding of our world. That isn’t such a bad thing, since our limited understanding of things – let’s be honest here – hasn’t really worked out as well as we might have hoped.

So, each revelatory experience requires us to move out of our settled convictions of — or even resignations to — the way things are, to a less confortable acknowledgment that something new, something else, something more profound may be required of us. And furthermore, it is something that is equally true when it comes to both our political perspectives and religious points of view.  In a word, one might say such a revelatory event is an encounter with the “body politic of God.”

It (a revelatory encounter) is something that is equally true when it comes to both our political perspectives and religious points of view.  In a word, one might say such a revelatory event is an encounter with the body politic of God.

But this is not the way revelatory authority is often claimed.  As was pointed out in the first part of this two-part commentary, John’s Revelation was not only one of any number of such writings that claimed to have gotten the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth directly from God.  It was also his reassertion of his thinly veiled critique and indictment of what he clearly regarded to be the political foe of God’s holy people. It was the Roman Empire, disguised as the whore of Babylon (Rev. 17-18).

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