Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Even the Wrath of Men

Revelation 17.9-18

Leviticus 21 describes the appropriate punishment for a priest’s daughter who becomes a prostitute. It’s not pretty. More to the point, it’s nearly repeated verbatim in Revelation 17.16-17 when John describes what the beast and the ten kings do to the whore of Babylon. They strip her, eat her, burn her, and kill her. As we previously mentioned, the whore of Babylon is not an actual person, but a personification of those who cooperate with the Empire. She’s (figuratively) the woman who sells her soul to get ahead. She is described as being fixated on sensuality (17.2,4), exploitation (18.13), commerce (18.11-13), violence (17.6), fraud (17.8), and idolatry (18.7). It’s easy to decry those things when they’re listed in such negative terms, but most of us are more familiar with their popular names: pleasure, ease, success, victory, spin, and self-preservation. Perhaps one of the greatest threats of the beast is his ability to convince us that all our love of sensuality is actually just the quest for happiness, or that all our luxuries are delivered without keeping the less-fortunate below the poverty line. Or, perhaps an even greater threat, is that we know that the way we live has a sinister side, and we’re trying to entertain that darkness only so much so that it doesn’t really hurt anyone.

But whenever you sell out, you inevitably get burned.

People who sell out their convictions always come to regret it later on. Girls who succumb to the temptations of boys are rarely rejoicing the next morning. Men who succumb to greed rarely die content. Parents who succumb to anger rarely have children (or grandchildren) with whom they spend holidays. When we give in, we give something else up. We might not have to pay the price immediately, but we always pay more than we’d expected. The pursuit of selfish interests collects interest, and the principle of our debt lurks in the background like a beast.

The beast will later get what’s coming to him. For now, it’s the whore who falls. The ten kings will get what’s coming to them, but for now it’s their destruction of the whore that concerns us. In a bitter twist of apocalyptic fascination, we might note that these evil powers thought they were serving their own interests, but even their murderous desires have been expropriated for divine purposes.

Even the wrath of men is made to praise God.

So what are we to make of all this? Simply that none of these judgments was necessary. No one has to compromise. No one has to give in. No one has to sell out. Everyone has the opportunity to get right with God. Everyone has the opportunity to receive the seal of the Lamb. Everyone is invited to the New Jerusalem. But many of us decline the invitation. The bright lights of Babylon blind us, and the beast isn’t so terrifying when you’re riding it like a queen. Sadly, by the time he bucks you off and bares his fangs, it’s usually too late to escape. And all those you thought were your friends have turned on you and stand by, laughing, while you come to ruin.

This can all be avoided.

What are we waiting for?

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