It has been a real privilege this last semester to teach a course on Revelation for the University of Otago. Yesterday I completed marking the last set of essays for the course, which were on the eschatology of Revelation, including work on imperial ideology then and now. Collectively the essays reminded me that the Book of Revelation is a very special book. On the surface it is quite weird - very difficult to understand and to make sense of, especially if one tries to understand individual verses in the midst of visions of strange creatures doing bizarre things. But a reading of Revelation which keeps in mind the whole tenor of the book offers a fairly straightforward message: the world as we experience it has a deeper life in which evil lurks, fostering injustice everywhere and ever looking to strangle God's people, either through the allure of assimilation to idolatry or in straight out violent opposition to those aligned with Jesus Christ. When life seems ordinary, the economy predictable, and wars are faraway, the more obviously relevant reading for Christians seeking guidance about civic life is Romans 13. But in extraordinary circumstances, Revelation is the text to go to.
There we find analysis which acknowledges the tragic realities of human history, that from the ashes of the Weimar Republic the beast of Nazism can arise, or from the utopian ideals of Marxism, the murderous dragon of Stalinism can erupt. More prosaically, perhaps, we also find in chapters 17 and 18 a lurid vision that reveals the simple act of shopping can be the tip of an iceberg made up of corrupt, price-gouging, exploitative commercial practices. Economic injustice fuelled the imperialism of Rome, threatening to destroy the churches of Asia Minor through temptations to fall in with the association of idolatry with business life, refusal of which opened the chilling prospect of assault on the congregations which might snuff out their life in Christ.
As Europe shudders collectively at the invoice for its profligate children's antics, and the rest of the world squirms at the thought of loans not being repaid and goods sent across the sea not being purchased, are we in an extraordinary time? In terms of Revelation 17-18, is the judgement of God falling on the world economy, an overdue reckoning with injustice in the terms of trade between first and third worlds? Indeed, in a secularized Europe, increasingly antagonistic towards Christianity, is divine judgement making its inevitable visit on those who have worshipped at the euroshrine?
Here in NZ we head towards an election in fourteen days time. Is this an ordinary time in which we make our ordinary decisions about whom to vote for? I think not. I think we are on the verge of a precipice, down which no one knows how far we could fall. Sure, we are not as close to the precipice as Europe, but like climbers on a mountain, in today's global economy we are roped together with other nations, in danger of eventually following them as they fall.
So, in this extraordinary time I suggest we worry less about who our Prime Minister will be and more who our Minister of Finance will be. On that logic I am thinking we need to go with the present incumbent, Bill English, and not take the risk of the likely Labour alternate whose grasp of economics includes borrowing in order to invest in sharemarkets. In the vagaries of MMP voting this does not mean I or you would need to vote for the National Party ... even the Greens are making sympathetic noises about working with National. But we would need to take a very careful look at whether this is a time to vote for Labour. As a matter of fact, current polling of the electorate seems to be saying that as a nation we are inclined both to trust the present incumbent's handling of the economy and are not impressed with the alternative.
Of course if we are inclined to think this is an ordinary time, then all bets are off as to whom is better to deal with the ordinary realities of the Minister of Finance's role.
As always, I could be wrong!