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The Justification of History

What we have to offer as Christians is not just evidence that demands a verdict. More importantly, all of us are living in a chaotic, broken story that demands (1) a plot that makes sense of chaos, and (2) a resolution for that plot. Our Text offers a storied arrangement of chaotic events, and a way to resolve the plot’s tension created by rebellion and catastrophe.

Why and how does history impugn the excellence of creation? In chapters 4 and 5 he shows us a tableau of creation, in which the throne of God is surrounded by the symbolic representatives of the created order, ceaselessly offering their praise.

But their hymns are interrupted by the discovery of a sealed scroll in the hand of the Most High. As a scroll, it represents a history; as a sealed scroll, its contents are unintelligible to us. So the prophet poses his problem: how can the created order which declares the beauty and splendour of its Creator, be the subject of a world-history, the events of which are directionless and contradictory?

The goodness of creation is impugned by the meaninglessness of events. Only if history can be shown to have a purpose, can the prophet’s tears be wiped away and the praise of the creation be resumed. We can all repeat the words in which the consolation of the Gospel is announced to him: ‘Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

And then, as the prophet tells us unforgettably ‘I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain’ (5:5-6). The sacrificial death of God’s Messiah is the event to interpret all events, which alone can offer human existence the cosmic meaning which it demands. It provides the justification of creation in history, and the justification of history in new creation.

Oliver O’Donovan, “The Political Thought of the Book of Revelation,” TynBul 37 (1986), 171.

If we are not living in a story, then there is no plot; there is only chaos and brokenness. And if we have no story, we have no justification not only for history, but for beauty, righteousness, and love.

In fact, we have no justification for the world.