Theology, like philosophy, has a tendency towards dry abstraction. It feeds our desire for answers and yet leaves us empty. We long for a picture, a vision of what cannot otherwise be seen.
And that’s why, it seems to me, God hadn’t given us a book of abstractions. He’s given us a concrete story.
There’s this scene from Lord of the Rings that I keep returning to as I think about Revelation: Frodo and Sam on mount Doom. Frodo can no longer bring himself to destroy the ring. And so Sam points him to their future return to the peace in the Shire. But Frodo can’t even remember that. He can’t see it. The weight of the ring he alone can carry has become too much. But Sam isn’t done with his friend. He concludes, “I may not be able to carry the ring for you Mr. Frodo but I can carry you” and he lifts Frodo over his shoulders and carries him up the mountain.
Lord of the Rings is a fantasy story. It has never existed in what we would refer to as reality. And yet here in this imagine Tolkien captured something so true and real you and I can’t help but allow it to bring us to tears. In the scene, we recognize what our friends have done for us. There are pains in life, like the weight of Frodo’s ring, which we alone can carry. Our pain is our pain. But our friends often carry us when our pain would stop us from continuing on.
This is the reality at work in the book of Revelation – not a this-world-reality but a metaphorical reality. A fantastic picture of the life we as Christians are experiencing right now bordered as it is by both its beginning and end. Revelation is not literal but that doesn’t make it not real. It’s the same true reality that we experience in the music and lyrics of a song.