I watched the movie Dune yesterday. I had seen it many years ago and read the novel, but I had forgotten the plot. It is the story of a messiah, a man born with the right combination of spiritual and physical characteristics, the right training, and the willingness to begin a new universal order. He trains an army of simple desert dwellers to use magical weaponry to defeat the army of a superior and sadistic overlord to gain control over their planet’s resources and thus rule the universe–because theirs is the only planet in the universe that produces spice, a substance that makes space travel possible.
As I watched the movie, I was noticing elements of Islam and Christianity mixed with techno magic, science mixed with religion in a Nietzschean universe in which power to force your will on others is the only good. The good-guy/messiah brings peace to the universe by killing his enemies and monopolizing the most valuable commodity in the universe. Peace through war and capitalism.
In many ways, this “peace through war” theme reminded me a great deal of how many Christians conceive of the Second Coming of Christ. Meek and mild came Christ the first time, lowly and riding on a donkey. But His Second Coming will be in Glory–which to many means with military might, angel warriors who will kill all who oppose Him.
Certainly the Revelation of St. John is bloody, full of destruction and plagues and wars of all types. However, while most readers of Revelation have no problem recognizing the symbolic nature of much of the book (locust with lion’s heads, etc.), they cannot conceive of the battle and war imagery in any way other than literal killing in war: “Blood flowing to the height of a horse’s bridle. Wow, that’s a lot of blood. I wonder how many people you have to kill to get that much blood?”
And while human beings will probably continue to find new and more efficient techniques and boastfully irenic justifications to kill one another, I am certain that the Christ who will return will be no other than the Christ who Ascended. And the Glory in which he will return will not be the human glory of military conquest. It will be the glory of the knowledge of His divinity, of His humility, of His love–a knowledge that cannot be escaped. The torment of the Age to Come has no more to do with literal lakes of fire than it has to do with a literal Lamb on a throne or literal riders on different coloured horses. It is symbolic language, a symbolic language that the Gospels teach us to interpret. When we interpret the Bible from the paradigm of our experience full of anger, lust and justification for wickedness, or when we interpret the Old Testament and Revelation as though the Gospels and Epistles stood in parentheses, then we will only see in the Bible what our culture of death and consumption and self-justification has taught us to see.
However, if we make the Gospels and Epistles the interpretive lens through which the rest of the Bible is read (with the guidance of the Holy Fathers and teachers of the Church), then we can begin to see what is very difficult to see. We can begin to see that the Christ who is to come is the same Christ who ascended, and that death is overcome by death–not by killing.
Revelation 12: 11 “And they overcame him [the accuser of the brethren, the dragon] by the blood of the Lamb, the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto death.”
This blog post was originally posted on Fr. Michael Gillis' blog, 'Praying in the Rain,' on September 3, 2012 and can be accessed here.