Now I sea!

I am suddenly a fan of Office Depot. The following endorsement is given in return for a favor, but no money changed hands. Either way. Which is the point.

I took my sick laptop (the one I write on) in to Off. Dep. today. An associate and a technician spent about 45 minutes with me, found the problem, fixed it, and sent me home at no charge whatever.

You could have knocked me over with a USB connector.

I really, really needed some stuff I’ve got on there, too.

I reviewed Jared Wilson’s Your Jesus Is Too Safe the other day, and spoke portentously of an insight I’d had while reading it. Chances are many of our smart, attractive readers know this already, but I’ll share it anyhow.

Like all Christians (I suspect), I have Bible passages that I like less than, say, John 3:16, or Romans 8. One of them comes from Revelation 21:1: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”

The new heaven and new earth are fine. I’m great with that. But what’s with getting rid of the sea? I like the sea. I’m descended from island and coastal people, and it was with a sense of homecoming that I finally got the chance to dip my toe in the ocean for the very first time, when I was in my 30s. The roar of the sea. The thunder of the waves. The romance of the sea. Sea stories. Sea shanties. Surf and turf. Love it all.

But Jared Wilson helped me figure out what the passage means. I don’t think he said this exactly, but I made the conceptual leap—Revelation is a symbolic book, and the sea here is used in a symbolic sense.

I first encountered this idea in Ray Van Der Laan’s Faith Lessons video series, but I never made the connection. In traditional Hebrew thinking, the word for “sea” had a literal and a metaphorical meaning, and the two tended to get conflated. The sea, with its ever-shifting surface, where there’s no place to stand and where people drown, symbolizes both the evils of life in a fallen world, and the home of evil, Hell.

The exchange in Luke 8, where Jesus exorcises a demoniac and sends the demons into a herd of swine, is a good instance of this thinking. When the demons beg Jesus “not to order them to go into the Abyss,” (v. 31), the abyss has the double meaning of both sea and Hell. So when the newly possessed pigs rush down the bank into the sea, the sense is that the demons ended up precisely where they’d been terrified to go, even though Jesus had granted their request.

So the Revelation passage, I take it, means that moral chaos will disappear from the earth. No longer will the rules be unfair. No longer will bad things happen to good people.

Perhaps the greatest instance of this symbolism in the Gospels (I think) is the story of Jesus and Peter walking on the water. It’s in Matthew 14:22-33. The disciples are out on the Sea of Galilee, and a storm comes up (Galilee is famous for sudden, violent storms). After a long fight to stay afloat, the crew spots Jesus, walking on the water. They think they’re seeing a ghost (out of the Abyss, no doubt), but Jesus tells them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

So Peter, impulsive guy that he is, asks Jesus to let him come out and walk with Him. Jesus calls him to join him, and Peter jumps out and starts walking on the waves, toward Jesus.

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.

Understand that the sea (especially in a storm) symbolizes the evils and dangers of life, and this story becomes a perfect parable of the Christian life. The sea is chaotic. It is dangerous. It’s frightening for a good reason—because it can kill you as easily as you’d crunch an ant underfoot, and with less concern.

The life of faith means getting out of the (relative) safety of the boat, and stepping out over the Abyss. Nothing—nothing at all—except for the power of Christ prevents you from going down into the depths. And yet you do it, when He calls, because you believe in His power to hold you up. He is your sole means of support, and if you’re mistaken about Him, you’re a goner.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Now the only question for me is, will I put it into practice?

13 thoughts on “Now I sea!”

  1. The book of Revelation; I think it was the only book of the bible Jean Calvin didn’t do a commentary on.

    – I agree with your comments Lars. I’ve read a couple commentaries, and listened to a long tape series that show how most of the imagery goes back to old testament passages.

    – I think it’s important to remember that the ‘sea’ (or ocean) had connections with the great Flood to those who wrote the old testament.

  2. Since Lars mentioned the word, “waters…” I felt it was safe to ask this question.

    My wife, in her Japanese Bible study for new Christians and non-Christians, wants to know why Jesus used his saliva to heal people from being blind, etc….

    Can any of you experts out there help her out?

    Thanks in advance!

  3. Wow, maybe I should have taken my netbook into Office Depot… I just lost some writing on there, and Best Buy isn’t going to try and save anything for me unless I pay $100. What bullcrap. Sigh. Too late now!

  4. John: I have no idea.

    Lady: Turns out I’m going to need to replace my computer memory. But that will be much cheaper than Office Depot sending it to the shop would have been.

  5. Another possibility that I have wondered about is could it be a reference to the sea, which was the huge basin that the priests and Levites used for ceremonial washing? No more need for washing away sins, for there will be none?

    I hope that the part about there being no mountains is also figurative.

  6. Personally, I’ve always thought C. S. Lewis got it right in “The Last Battle”. What and who we love will all be there, only better, because our “reality” is merely a shadow of His perfection. “It’s all in Plato, all in Plato! Bless me, what *do* they teach them at these schools!”

  7. John: My wife, in her Japanese Bible study for new Christians and non-Christians, wants to know why Jesus used his saliva to heal people from being blind, etc….

    Ori: There was a belief that saliva can heal eye diseases at the time.

    There’s a story in the Mishnah that tells of Rabbi Meir(1). A woman stayed in his house of study instead of going home to cook, and got into a fight with her husband. Her husband, being a boor, swore that she won’t be able to enjoy any of his assets(2) unless she goes and spits at Rabbi Meir.

    The woman went to Rabbi Meir, uncertain what to do. God told him the story, so when she came he told her that he had an eye disease and asked her to spit in his eye three time. She did it.

    Then Rabbi Meir told her: “Go home, and tell your husband that he told you to spit at me once, and you did it three times”. She went home, and did that.

    When his students asked him why he humiliated himself in this way, he reminded them that God Himself allows His name to be blotted out to bring peace between husband and wife(3). Surely, the honor of Rabbi Meir is not higher than the honor of God.

    (1) He lived about a century after Jesus, IIRC.

    (2) This includes not being able to eat any of the food in the house.

    (3) The Sotah ritual, described in, involved dust from ink that contained God’ four letter name.

  8. Very informative & interesting. I also have had a hard time with that passage, & have wondered if it was simply was ‘covering the bases’ – that the old sea isn’t left to lap the shores of the new earth. Could there be a ‘new sea’ on the new earth?

  9. Just butting in to say that I believe Ray Vander Laan has a new series coming out. He’s speaking at the church my son and daughter-in-law attend.

    He is SUCH an interesting teacher.

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