OT: Joel 1:1-3:21
We read the entirety of Joel today. I read it first thing this morning and even did my background reading like a good girl, but I wasn't able to blog until tonight. So instead of giving a thorough rehashing, I am just going to hit the message that stuck with me throughout the day:
Joel is writing at a time of national crisis. Specifically, a plague of locusts is wiping out the crops of the Israelites, causing them to be without food, wine, and money. Joel spends lots of time describing the devastation, and then he tells his listeners to mourn it. In 1:2-4, he affirms that times are as bad as they have ever been, and in 1:5, 8, 11, 13, and 14, he specifically tells the people to weep, wail, cry, and despair. I find this to be a profound and ultimately freeing injunction. So many times, we try to deny our pain, to suck it up, to make the best of things, to move on with our lives. And while I don't think we should wallow, I have had two experiences that have taught me the value of turning yourself over to the pain that surrounds you. The first was when I was in college, away from home for the first time ever, and feeling oppressively lonely. I did everything I could to fight the feeling of loneliness. I stretched my comfort zone to make friends and reach out to others. I got involved with activities and even took up running regularly as a way to distract me from loneliness. But the fact was, I was still lonely. And finally, I realized the following: "I am feeling very lonely. This loneliness sticks with me no matter how I fight it, no matter how many friends I make. So instead of denying that I feel lonely, how about this? How about I accept the feeling that I am lonely. How about I feel lonely? Allow the loneliness in. Obviously, God is letting me feel lonely for a reason, so perhaps I need to stop fighting it and just feel lonely until He stops me from feeling lonely." And honestly, that helped me so much.
The second time was years later when I experienced a painful event in my life. Again, I tried to deny that I was in pain, b/c to me, a good, strong Christian would not weep and wail b/c something went wrong for her. After a few months of this willful denial, I was describing some feelings I was having to my mom, and she said, "It just sounds like you are in so much pain." Amazingly, that was the first time it really hit me: I was in pain. I was feeling pain, and it wasn't going away, despite my best efforts to deny it. And I realized that it was time to stop fighting and just to be in pain. Like the loneliness, I figured that God allowed me to feel this pain (if He was not actively causing me to feel it), and so the best thing I could do was to turn myself over to it until God chose to take it away.
Now, Joel's recommendations for mourning had a definite purpose. Their purpose was to draw people back to God by leading them to repentance. And I believe that mourning and pain and loneliness can all be good things, too...if they ultimately draw us to God. When I turned myself over to pain and loneliness, it was not to wallow or to turn too far inward. Instead, I figured that God had something to teach me through the pain and loneliness that I could not learn if I did not experience them to the fullest. And I was right. One lesson I learned was to humble myself before God and to trust Him alone with my life. So much of my denial of my pain and loneliness stemmed from my own pride, my own misguided belief that I could fix things if I just tried hard enough and fought hard enough. That pride kept me from turning to God and asking for His help. In retrospect, it was all very foolish and sad. But that was a lesson I had to learn.
Another obvious thing that the pain and loneliness did was to teach me how to empathize with others. Even today, when I see someone battling the demons of loneliness, my own experience often comes flooding back to me with crushing clarity and motivates me to reach out to that person and to show them God's love. Same with the pain. God saved enough of it in my memory to release a little back into my brain whenever I see someone else struggling through a painful situation. In that way, my pain and loneliness better equipped me to be the hands and feet of Christ to a hurting world.
I'm sorry that all those musings are only tangentially related to Joel. Those are the thoughts that God gave me today. I'll close with this. In 2:18-27, God gives the people some good news: this, too, shall pass. They are experiencing a season of pain, and He wants them to experience it to the full. Mourn, weep, wail, embrace the pain. And let that pain lead you back to God. And take heart, because this painful season will pass. It will not always be this way. That whole set of instructions is so hopeful and encouraging to me. It reminds me that God is always firmly in control of my life, even in times when my life seems to be running off the rails.
NT: Revelation 1:1-20
Today, we read an introductory passage in the book of Revelation, setting the stage for the revelation to come. It was all very Daniel-esque, except that this time, the intimidating, glowing messenger was Christ Himself. I researched this one, too, and I this time, I will share some of the info, since we are going to be here for the rest of the year. My wonderful husband got me a little handbook by some of my favorite Bible scholars, Carson and Moo, and here are a few things from their introduction:
After affirming their belief that the book was written, in fact, by John on the isle of Patmos, they turn to dating. They tend to go with the later date (81-96, specifically 95-96) of authorship, as opposed to the earlier (54-68) b/c "the conditions presumed in Revelation are more likely to have existed during Domitian's reign." And then they talk about his reign for awhile.
They say that Revelation has elements of apocalypse, prophecy, and a letter (though, only in that it is a letter, not that it sounds anything like a typical letter). They had some interesting things to say about the nature of apocalypse v. prophecy. They say,
"Revelation is not a pure apocalypse because it is not pseudonymous and it grounds hope in Jesus' past sacrifice rather than a future event. General characteristics of an apocalypse include the following:
a) response to persecution
b) claims to relate heavenly mysteries revealed by an angel or some other spiritual being.
c) pseudonymous, written in the name of great figures, like Adam or Moses
d) culminates with the breaking in of God's kingdom, which is expected in the very near future
e) extensive symbolism in historical surveys
f) dualistic conception of history that sharply contrasts the present world with the world to come ('apocalyptic eschatology')"
Regarding prophecy, they say that,
"Some contrast prophecy with 'apocalyptic,' arguing that 1) prophecy looks for God's salvation to be manifested through the processes of this world rather than through a breaking in of a new world and 2) prophets claim to speak directly from the Lord. Revelation contains elements of both prophecy and apocalyptic; no rigid distinction between the two is possible. They are also combined in several Old Testament books (e.g. Daniel, Isaiah and Zechariah), as well as Jesus' Olivet discourse."
No idea what Jesus' Olivet discourse was, but maybe it had something to do with the Mount of Olives? Anywho, I liked the distinction between apocalyptic and prophecy. It was thought-provoking to me.
The last thing I'll share from Carson and Moo today is that they addressed the different ways of reading Revelation: the preterist view says that Revelation is a symbolic description of events that have already happened, that were happening at the time of John's writing. A historical view says that Revelation sketches history from John's day to our own day (even I could immediately see the problems with that one). An idealist view says that Revelation does not describe specific events, but is more of a blueprint for generally understanding God's ways with the world. Lastly, there are two futurist views. The consistent one says that everything described in chapters 4-22 will happen at the end of time. A more moderate view says that some of those events have already happened, and others will happen at the end of time.
The authors ultimately go with the futurist view, though they see value in others. My dad always had a preterist view, which I used as an excuse not to delve too much into Revelation, b/c, after all, it was a bunch of stuff I couldn't understand about something that already happened. I have to admit, that view appeals to me, mainly b/c, as stated before, I hate it when people try to get too specific about the end times. It never seems to work.
Okay, I've typed for way too long. That's all for tonight!
Psalm 128: 1-6
A wonderful, uplifting little psalm of blessing.
What I took from this is that when people don't experience God in a tangible way for a certain time span, the temptation is to turn away from Him. But instead, we should hold fast to our faith and continue walking in God's ways even when "there is no revelation."