THE SHEER CONFIDENCE OF JOHN PATMOS
The Revelation of John, the last book in the Bible, arises out of crisis. Rarely does the writer give us a clear picture of the trouble, but we know, reading between the lines, that there on the fringes of the Roman Empire believers were hanging on for life. You can almost see them, a little band of Christians, surrounded in the pagan cities. What are they going to do?
Interestingly, Revelation begins with great shouts of praise. You might expect the vision to begin in despair. After all, the early church Is in trouble with the Empire is stepping up its persecution. But unexpectedly, Revelation has these outbursts of exuberant praise. The vision begins, not in despair, but in doxology, in praise, in cadences which scholars believe were derived from some of the hymns of Christian worship. John shouts, “To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
John, who should have been overwhelmed by trouble, responds with an overwhelming affirmation of the grace and triumph of God in Christ. John sees God decisively entering the world in Jesus Christ and busily reclaiming a lost world. John declares:
“Look! He is coming with the clouds, every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.” John, imprisoned on the island of Patmos responded to all the uncertainty around him by affirming God’s victory in Jesus Christ. John makes sweeping claims. What happens in Jesus is not something that is merely personal or private. The events of the text are very public. Cosmic even. Matters of vast importance are being addressed. Seemingly impossible problems are being defeated.
Our Reformed faith has a peculiar vigor in the face of all the vicissitudes of life. We are to give our full commitment to God in the confidence that God alone sustains and governs human destiny. Therefore we are not overwhelmed by the ragged edges of human existence. Trusting God, we can face life squarely and dispense with the feverish attempt to find security in wealth or success or any other form of human achievement. John Calvin, the great Reformer in Geneva, wrote about this in his
Institutes of the Christian Religion
. The following passage written in 1539 is remarkably timely:
“The great necessity of this disposition will appear if we consider the numerous accidents to which we are subject. Diseases of various kinds frequently attack us: at one time, the pestilence is raging; at another, we are cruelly harassed with the calamities of war; at another time, frost or hail, devouring the hopes of the year, produces sterility, which brings us to penury; a wife, parents, children, or other relatives are snatched away by death; our dwelling is consumed by fire; these are the events, on the occurrence of which men curse this life…reproach God….But it behooves a believer, even in these events, to contemplate the clemency and truly paternal goodness of God.”
And with all those troubles as the realistic context for the Christian life, Calvin went on to publish the French Psalter, a hymnbook for the Reformed churches which includes this robust declaration of faith, “I greet thee, whom my sure redeemer art.”
As we cope with the consequences of COVID-19, please remember that our God is not some distant, aloof, and uncaring deity. Nor is God some sympathetic but essentially powerless being. God not only cares, but also acts. God has sovereign power to heal the brokenness around us and in us. --SCW