Revelation

This is not about the New Testament Book called “Revelation “, it is about some modern perspectives on the nature of revelation and scripture from Karl Rahner, Paul Tillich and Rowan Williams

If we are to consider the meanings of biblical revelation today we must consider the varied individual parts as making up a whole to a divine purpose that is beyond our normal rational analysis of the world, something of a transcending character to lead to our own change of character as beings intended for Divine Communion and Unification of life, focused and completed in Jesus Christ .

Karl Rahner

Includes notes taken from “Foundations of Christian Faith”

God’s transcendent grace, is shown in the history of revelation and is part of a whole in which God is revealed generally to the human mind and most specifically in the Jewish and Christian scriptures.  There is a spectrum of revelation given to humanity of which the biblical revelation is the most specific. We should see this in special relation to the Gospel John chapter 1 in that the Word has attempted to enlighten every man and woman and so we find some kindred aspects of revelation in non-Jewish and non-Christian religions. There were law codes for societies before Moses (see my chapter on Law) and other aspects of religions that are at least partly in sympathy with biblical traditions even if differing in exact detail and doctrines. While having obvious various deviations in creed and practice we sometimes do find common and related elements of faith that really are not that far apart and in which we could say there is something of the pre-incarnate Word and light for human conscience to transcend the self and all its attractions and deviations.

We can also view the non-violence in Buddhism and parts of Hinduism that are in accord with Jesus call to love enemies and avoid violent retaliation. We can see the great analytical critique of human actions in relation to suffering that are also a strong component within Buddhism, but still is also evident revelation of the effects of our actions quite in accord with the words of Jesus. These are complementary to the revelations of the sinfulness of humanity that is on view in the bible.

We can go even further back in time and see how some aspects of the divine were seen by much more primitive societies. There are ancient carvings and pictures made by early humans that show aspects of Transcendent experience perceived by humanity. This has a history (and one that precedes written scriptures and what we know as historical religion).  These are also related to the human capacity to receive aspects of God’s own disclosure.

When viewing the history of religions there may sometimes seem to be a progress in God’s revelation and our capacity to receive it. Rahner thinks there is an irreversible direction to this. It depends what he means by progress. We may note that humanity has the kind of self -deception that re-invents former old idols and forgets what may have already been disclosed as something better. Religious movements do not always go forward progressively and other generations forget and deny what has gone before.

Even within the bible there are the stories of forgetting the better elements of God’s revelation in the next generation and the constant call of the prophets to be faithful to what has been received. Furthermore, despite that in modern times there have elaborations of human rights, that surely come from God’s love, there are so often denials of these and the use of religious and cultural reasons to ignore them. Human society does not always advance with religious revelation and conviction. Care is also needed about the self -revelation from God that is open to being erroneously received and deviated from its true intention by the failure of human intellect and will. Our reception of what God has been saying to us imay be distorted with selfish wish fulfilment, our own self- deception and so may distort our reception of God’s revelation and grace. God’s self- revelation may be misunderstood and misused and even distorted towards selfish and tribal ends. We find that even within the biblical texts.

Paul Tillich

(From Systematic Theology Vol 1).

We need to consider the meaning of the words we use about revelation and how it relates to our being.  Revelation goes beyond reason and always remains mysterious. God is revealed but still remains infinite mystery,  beyond cognition and is not simply something we do not know today and we may do tomorrow. Revelation is not something natural and leads to God as the Ground of Being and our Ultimate Concern and is shaking and transforming. Even so, revelation of that Ground of Being however may occur in concrete circumstances (and we believe has been in the historic situations of Israel).

Revelation has sometimes been associated, and has occurred,  with an ecstatic state in which we are taken out of the very day experience of life and experience that is beyond that we normally perceive. There is an emotional side to this but that is not all that it is. We note the stories of the prophets who received such experiences and the apostles on the Day of Pentecost. Experiences beyond their natural lives and expectations,. 

There have been ants still are today doubts and problems in relating stories of miracles. These strange incidents are often considered signs of something extraordinary occurring beyond what is considered normal in the world. On the contrary these stories should not be regarded as irrational and superstition or as an interruption of the world, making God into a sorcerer. Something has occurred that is shocking and revelatory without destroying the structure of nature and normal processes of life.

There has been in the past the idea that we may think of as “natural” revelation that is based on finding things in the world that are revealing of the more Ultimate. (it is one of the themes of Franciscan theology). Elements of the natural world may reveal the divine who has caused their existence. In this way the natural may point beyond itself. Revelation  many come during the natural processes of life and thinking about the world and our individual lives and opens up new possibilities of life. There may occur to us a  natural feeling of revelation of wrong and pending “judgement” in answer to the wrong, or the new sense of blessing of what is right and is done and experienced. 

Revelation has occurred in history in varied circumstances and is shared by the Church in its memory (traditions) and this remembered revelation becomes a medium of revelation for us in the present. The preserved “word” of past can gives rise to a new and present Word (as the Spirit connects it to our own lives and experience. This new word to is taken from the Word that is from beyond us.  Revealed and preserved words of the past can be linked to the original divine Word. There can therefore be new and original revelation and also revelation dependent on what has been received before. So for instance Jesus as the Christ was new in the experience of His disciples but was also dependent on the history of revelation that preceded Him. All who came after have been been dependent on both the original and interpreted revelations of the past. Devotional acts are illuminated by all the prior revelation. We must therefore recognise the communal nature of revelation that must be emphasised because rarely do people receive revelation just for themselves and instead as part of the community and society in which they exist. 

The most special revelation for Christians is a Final Revelation that has its focus on Jesus as the Christ and in this The Christ is the measure of all revelation and cannot be exceeded. He is the transparent mystery of what He reveals, negating Himself and united to the Ground of Being. He resisted being made into a false messiah that a would have been an idol. In Him history finds is fulfilment and true meaning and destiny of all life.

Revelation and Salvation are both related to The Christ and are joined so that they are the same and revelation is received in the presence of salvation. (This concurs with Rahner that the divine offer of salvation is something revealed). True revelation and response to it is an existential event that should change us. It is about the revealing of the ever present goodness that changes all relationships and part of the conquest of sin, bringing New Being (new Humanity). Revelation is about the presence of the Divine Ground of being in Christ that is relational creativity in the Community of New Being (that is the Church). In this kind of revelation natural reason is not destroyed but is instead elevated and changed. 

Tillich is wary of using scripture as some sort of compendium of eternal laws and ethics, instead writes that the finality of Revelation  from Jesus who is The Christ does not give us absolute ethics or absolute doctrines and may always contains paradox  as it meets with ambiguities of existence. Things related to Jesus are always open to change in the face of new circumstances. Nothing about Him should create some unchanging dogma or rules.. There is a problem that revelation can be misused by the Church and received wrongly and applied falsely. What is most important is the revelation of Love (Self emptying Agape/ Charity) as the ultimate law. Love readily adapts to the new situations that occur and applies itself in that change. 

To conclude, all of what Tillich writes has implications for how we read the bible in that it should be about receiving and finding Christ as the ultimate revelation and revealing of our foundations from God and our intended change into New Being and New Humanity. It must take us from our still imperfect and incomplete evolved state and lead us to our new and intended state, Everything must relate to that and all our interpretations and applications of scripture must be embraced by it. Revelation included in he Bible is not about infallible words once spoken and written in ancient times. it is about a dynamics of relationships as receiving, meditating and then action in response to it.

Rowan Williams – The Discipline of Scripture 

Notes taken from “On Christian Theology. The Discipline of Scripture”

Some are concerned about modern critical views of scripture and how it came to exist and want a simple and fundamentalist view. But we do need to see the Bible as whole while related to circumstances that gave rise to its composition and transmission. We need to see some of the allegory and movements and even apparent contradictions with new manning coming to light as we examine it. 

We need to accept the variety of types of text that it contains that include allegory as well as potential facts. We need new ways of thinking about the origins and messages it has for us today. Not all parts can be taken as literal and factual history as we think we know it. But some underlying historical realities may still be present that are to speak to us as we hear or read it, with new connections made in our minds relevant to our circumstances. The various “historical” dramas can draw our imagination to them to make current connections. We can also be instructed by the various “argument” texts.

The Church has often taken special texts to be read together in an ordered way according to subject matter related to specific celebrations of God’s work. Again with the intention to draw us into the overall movement of revelation. In this we become part of the drama we read and part of the ongoing movement back towards God. Sometimes the texts are critical of the communities in which they were composed and in this we are drawn into the divine criticism of all society and all sinful actions. We can see in Jesus His own critique of the traditions that were in His Palestinian society governed by Rome and the “scribes and pharisees” and His own re-interpretation of past traditions into something new that can also become new for us. 

Our own age has borough it’s own new conflicts and ethical questions including gender and sexual and other personal ethics that may still take time to settle in the light of the circumstances in which we live. This brings conflicts with rival interpretations and in discourse with secular public debates. It is part of the continued trouble with who we are and what we are to do in response to the past revelation and new understandings about being human. It remains a problem of an imperfect church in an imperfect world and how we let scripture speak to us in the present, not just a return to the past.