I can't remember exactly when I first discovered the apocalyptic literature of the Bible when I was young but I certainly remember the feeling. The apocalyptic passages in the Bible are those weird passages when a prophet like Daniel, Ezekiel or John have visions that describe some imminent (or not maybe not so imminent) return of God into the world. It usually gets tossed in with studies of eschatology ( the end times.) but not all events in these visions are about the future (at least not our future since a good number of scholars believe much of the apocalyptic prophecies have taken place already). Still it's more than a little frightening to learn that the Jesus we learned about in Sunday School, the one holding the lamb, healing a bunch of people and dying for the sins of the world, is apparently the same one at the end of the story with eyes of fire, a sword coming out of his mouth and the ends of his robe stained with blood.
It was passages of scripture like this that kept me from reading Revelation for many years. Partly because I didn't understand it but mostly because I was afraid. It's graphic stuff! The birds eat the flesh of the kings of the Earth! Huge bowls of blood! Lake of fire! There’s even a dragon!! Where did all this come from?
As I was trying to explain to a friend what the experience was like discovering who this God really was, I said that it was like the experience of finding your father's gun. Everything about the way you see your father changes when you see that.
"Is that HIS gun? Why does he have that? Has he ever used it? Will he?... Can I use it? Maybe if I get enough training?
If he never told you about it, the discovery would be a bit of a shock. It could fill you with fear. You’d be living your whole life with one view of your relationship in mind and then in an instant realize that everything you learned about this person maybe a lie. You’d ask yourself, does my dad lead a secret life? Is he a killer or a hero? Does he just kill just bad guys or can he kill good guys by mistake? Which one am I? I think I’m a good guy but how do I know? If I cross him somehow... would he ever kill me?
My dad (as in, my dad on Earth) had a gun. I never saw him use it but I saw him clean it a few times. I don't think he ever kept it in the house. It was a revolver of some kind. It wasn't heavy but the weight was substantial... I hear the guns that are used today are much lighter. You barely know they’re there at all.
One thing was clear about my Dad's gun. It was his and he had to keep it for work. He hated it. He thought they made dangerous situations more dangerous. Still, he understood that guns were sometimes necessary in order to protect people from other people who could no longer contain their own destruction.
Another thing was clear about my Dad's gun. It was not mine.
Even though I was a boy, and like all boys, I liked guns (and action and danger). I didn't argue with him.
He told me, ”Guns only do one thing.”
The word apocalypse comes from the Greek word “apokalyptein” meaning to "uncover,” “tear-back” or “reveal.” The word it self doesn’t really have anything to do with things ending rather it’s simply about revealing something that has been there already. For Christians this means seeing our Father in greater depth and maturity. However, it’s hard to do this accurately because his essence is mystery so the apocalyptic authors used the best tools they had. They described him in artistic, creative language because it’s the only way to really tell the truth. You have to use imagery and metaphor and symbolism to even get close to communicating what He is actually like.
I didn’t realize this when I was growing up. I learned about Revelation from people who interpreted the story literally. They told me “scary stories” to make me behave like they were older brothers who thought they were man enough to handle Dad’s gun. They walked around with it in their pockets like toddler-sheriffs, waving it around in the air scaring the neighborhood kids and accidentally shooting our sister in the leg.
The apocalyptic story still disturbs me but it also fascinates and excites me. I think this is because I’m getting to know my father better as I grow up and He’s clearing up a lot of the rumors I’ve heard about him. Lies about him being a sadistic monster who locks people in his basement forever while burning them alive. It’s not like he still isn’t strange and mysterious to me He is more mysterious to me now than ever before. I think he likes it that way. He loves curiosity, allure and desire. That is what intimacy is all about. Now, I’m less afraid of him. I know he has a gun, I know he hates to use it. When he does bring it out, He’ll only draws it on anyone who is hell-bent on hurting his kids. That’s not a monster. That’s a good parent.