All shall be well
I have enjoyed Jess’ posts on Julian of Norwich and look forward to many more. I would also be interested in seeing posts about Hildegard von Bingen.
Thinking about God’s love and justice and the concept of anger naturally led me to reflect on the Dies Irae and the promised restoration of all things. What does it mean to say that “all things shall be well”?
As orthodox Christians, we can proclaim neither universalism nor annihilationism. We believe in everlasting conscious torment for the unrepentant (those whom our politically incorrect forebears would call “the damned” and “the reprobate”). For them as individuals, it will not be well.
They shall be in everlasting agony. While there may no way around this and we accept that it is necessary for such individuals to be removed from the new heavens and new earth, lest it be spoiled and justice denied, we (and surely God, who is love) must be sad at such an outcome. Indeed, Christ Himself said that the Way is narrow, and that few find eternal life. We might understand “few” in a kind of relative sense; but, on any reading, it presupposes that there will be those who do not find eternal life.
The image found in Revelation of people being cast into the Lake of Fire is a haunting one. To describe all things as being well is to speak in an overall, objective sense about the fate of the cosmos, with the great division between the redeemed and the condemned, on whom “the wrath of God remains” (John 3:36).
Having recently finished reading a book defending the historical reliability of John’s Gospel, I am apt to remind the traditionalists and conservatives here, that the same John who wrote “God is love” is the John who recorded Jesus as speaking about the wrath of God and who received and recorded the visions of Revelation, which include, inter alia, this verse: “Then one of the four living creatures gave to the seven angels seven golden bowls filled with the wrath of God, who lives for ever and ever” (Revelation 15:7, NIV). We must not mischaracterise the wrath of God, but neither must we pretend it is not a concept taught in Scripture.
I am still mulling the post-tribulational framework and will no doubt write more on the subject when I have found some appropriate resources. I would, however, like to set out some initial thoughts.
Post-tribulationists generally posit a parallel unfolding of the seals, trumpets, and bowls of Revelation, rather than the sequential reading espoused by pre-wrathers (and generally pre-tribulationists too). They must of necessity do this because they posit that Christ returns at the seventh trumpet, but the seventh seal clearly depicts his return. Therefore, in their schema, the seventh seal and seventh trumpet are different visions, but describing the same event. This is, as many of them have pointed out, is essentially the same process as we use to harmonise the Four Gospels, in order to dispel potential contradictions.
Revelation is clearly made up of different vision units. In general, I am quite comfortable with the idea that John revisits various events in the narrative to add further detail or show them from other perspectives, and this is consistent with how the Book of Daniel is written too (i.e. different visions given at different times, but describing – more or less – the same things).
However, I have always found Revelation 8:1-6 problematic for the reading of the seals and trumpets as concurrent, since it seems to imply that the trumpets follow the seals. I think, to preserve the concurrent reading, one would have to take 8:2 as indicating a new vision sequence has begun, which is certainly possible, as “And I saw” does seem to indicate new vision units in Revelation. The difficulty I have is as follows.
- The Day of the LORD clearly comes after Jesus returns (as we see from reading Joel 2 in parallel with the Olivet Discourse and Revelation 6).
- The Olivet Discourse (using the analogy of Noah) and the Lukan analogy of Lot, clearly depict physical catastrophe befalling the earth after Jesus has resurrected or transformed and gathered the saints.
- The trumpets and bowls (unlike the seals) clearly describe physical calamities befalling the earth.
- Therefore, it would make sense to understand these as the Day of the LORD and to place them after Jesus has returned, which is what the pre-wrath framework does.
I think there are a few ways the post-tribulationist can respond to this problem. One is to point out that physical calamities happen already in the present age, before Jesus has returned, so we need not locate the trumpets and/or bowls after the return of Christ simply because they involve physical calamities. Another, which I believe some – but not all – post-tribulationists do, is to make the seals and trumpets concurrent, but not the bowls.
This is a harmonisation the both places physical calamities after the return of Christ and keeps the seventh seal and sevent trumpet as concurrent. However, this view is not universally held by post-tribulationists because the earthquake at the seventh bowl is usually identified with the earthquake at the seventh trumpet, on the grounds of simplicity.
Lastly, I wanted to comment on post-tribulationism’s identification of the seventh trumpet of Revelation with the “last trumpet” mentioned by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4. As many have pointed out, Revelation was written some time after 1 Thessalonians. Furthermore, Paul does not give additional detail about the last trumpet itself. Accordingly there are different theories about what he may have meant. This makes it hard to be sure that the last trumpet in Paul’s writings is the same as the seventh trumpet in Revelation. That being said, I have no firm opinion either way at this time.