The struggle and the victory
There is something I find enthralling about the wildlife documentaries produced these days. The photography is stunning, be it panoramas over vast waterfalls, or views from the murky depths of the great oceans, or weird close-ups of alien looking insects. The sheer wonder and variety and beauty of life on our planet is truly awesome and captivating. I love it.
But the world of nature is not as harmonious as we would like it to be. The beauty of the world is not without its ugly scars.
We were introduced to a harmless looking buffalo. It was an inoffensive creature, quietly living out its life on the island, seemingly having no cares other than where it might next choose to graze. However, we were also introduced to some weird lizards - Komodo dragons, which look like something left over from the age of the dinosaurs, a product of Jurassic Park. Just as we were happily celebrating the amazing diversity of these creatures living in close proximity to one another, the Komodo dragons attack the buffalo. This was not part of my celebrate-the-life-of-strange-creatures script. There then followed several days of waiting and watching the steady decline in the health of the hapless Buffalo, for it appears these Komodo dragons can inject poison when they bite. Inevitably, the aforementioned Buffalo, having been stalked mercilessly for days is eventually consigned to the lizard menu.
Something always gets eaten!
It is the nature of the world we live in. It is a world stalked by death and characterised by suffering, not only for us humans, but certainly for many animals. The world, one way or another, is a world of pain and suffering, even as it is a world of injustice and deep disappointment. I am a great admirer of the work done in Hospices for those facing terminal illness, but the tragedy is that such work is necessary. The world in which we live not only brings forth life, it is grimly stalked by death.
Why so? The believer knows that the world is not as it was meant to be. We read in the early chapters of Genesis an account of what is called ‘The Fall’. Yet this only partially explains the reality of our experience in a world of suffering and death. Behind the façade of life there is a cosmic struggle, which involves the existence of evil. We have been learning about this in our Sunday evening studies in the book of Revelation.
The book of Revelation is something of a picture book. It is important to realise that its many visions were given to John to display the unfolding purposes of God, and John uses OT images and symbols to describe these visions. In his descriptions he is really painting pictures for us. You may think of the book of Revelation as the visual representation of Jesus’ affirmation: ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.’ (Matthew 16:18) This statement from the lips of Jesus is ‘the book’ whilst Revelation is ‘the film.’
The key theme to grasp as you read through the book of Revelation is the depiction of cosmic struggle between good and evil, in which good triumphs by the death and resurrection of Christ. We are introduced to a ‘dark’ trinity of the dragon, the beast and the false prophet all contending against the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the midst of that struggle these two ‘trinities’ are building cities. The dark trinity is building ‘Babylon’ whilst the Holy Trinity is building ‘the New Jerusalem’.
‘Babylon’ in the Scriptures comes to represent human society organised and structured in a godless way. Ever since the days of Daniel, when he and his friends were exiled to an actual Babylon, where attempts were made to seduce them away from their faith and turn them into pagan Babylonians, ‘Babylon’ represent godless living. Elsewhere the phrase ‘the world’ is used of the same thing, human beings organising life without God and against God.
In contrast to Babylon is the ‘New Jerusalem’, the people of God, the church. Amidst the sufferings of God’s people described in Revelation, God is yet building His people. ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.’
The book of Revelation describes the desperate struggle down through history between these two ‘trinities’ and the human ‘society’ they create. Often it seems that the church is all but crushed. It can often seem that the church has lost its way and is without future. But through the death and resurrection of Christ victory has been secured, the dark trinity will be judged, Babylon destroyed and the Book of Revelation reaches a climax with the emergence of the ‘New Jerusalem’, God’s people free from conflict and living in perfect harmony with God.
There are countless joys and blessings in the Christian life. However, we live out our lives amidst suffering and loss, facing disappointment and difficulty. We struggle. Yet we do so on the basis and with the certainty of final victory. Meanwhile, we press on.