Purging fantasies about God


Christ Pantokrator mosaic in Byzantine style from the Cefalu Cathedral, Sicily

Here is an astute observation by Anglican theologian Joseph L. Mangina in his commentary on Revelation:

Revelation is disconcertingly unsentimental in its portrayal of God and evil. Indeed, much of the therapeutic force of the Apocalypse may well be to purge us of some of our fantasies concerning God. Rowan Williams writes that if one such fantasy is that of God as the classic Freudian father, “an authority figure who could sort out all our problems, who is always there on hand to help us out of situations where we would otherwise have to take responsibility,” the opposite danger might be that of “projecting on to God the characteristics of an idealized mother, always accepting and soothing.” On the one hand, God the ultimate daddy, endowed with magical power to make everything right; on the other hand, God the great mommy, accepting us “just the way we are.” It should be evident that both fantasies are grounded in a mixture of fear, self-love, and the seemingly infinite human capacity for self-deception. 

The genius of Revelation, we might say, is that it helps to purge us of those and other such fantasies concerning God. God is not whatever we would like him to be. God is God. He is the Creator and Pantokrator glimpsed in the heavenly worship – power indeed, but not power at human disposal and control – and he is also the Lamb, the slaughtered victim-as-victor. If the image of the all-powerful Creator frees us of our sentimentalism concerning God, the image of the Lamb of God should free us of our fear. If there is a hermeneutic for interpreting the violent passages in Revelation it can be only the cross. “How could it be said more clearly,” writes Jacques Ellul with penetrating insight, “that all that is read afterward [i.e., in the judgments of the seals, trumpets, and bowls], all these abominable things, are under the cover, under the signification, under the embrace of the love of the Lamb. And nowhere else. That all is situated in the cross of Jesus Christ, that these texts must not be read in themselves but only by relation to that love which sacrifices itself for those who hate it.” 


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