Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Artificial Intimidation and Leviathan rolling over

So, after yesterday’s blog, the question naturally arises, “Don’t the Scriptures themselves say a lot of intimidating things?” And the answer is, “Yes, of course.” Just off the top of my head, I would name the following as powerful symbols of real fears:

Primordial chaos, violence (starting with brother killing brother), vengeance (almost as evil as the originating violence), Egypt (empire built on power), war/enemies, Leviathan, “Lions, Behemoth, and Bears” (oh no!), Babylon (empire built on power), Assyria (empire built on power), Greece (empire built on power), Rome (empire built on power), Satan/the devil, demons/evil spirits, the love of money, the prince of the power of the air (say that 10x real fast!), the Great Whore of Babylon (who loses her looks after a few chapters and simply becomes a common hooker), and, of course, the Beast (her pimp).

I probably missed a few along the way, but here are my general feelings about this list of intimidating things in the Scriptures:

1. All of these references point toward the first- the primordial chaos of creation is a real and present danger, always threatening to return if the order of creation is lost.
2. Some of these references are quite literal. Lions had real teeth and Babylon had real spears and it would only be a fool who walked around ignoring the reality of either of them.
3. Some of these references were types. Egypt became a second-string player in the ancient near east after the rise of Babylon and Assyria, but it always remained a burning memory in Israel’s mind of an oppressive dynasty that is part of the grand story of liberation.
4. And some of these references are symbolic, which means they were, perhaps, the truest and most powerful references of all. Egypt will pass away as a significant player in geo-politics, but “evil spirits” are real and present dangers everywhere. They just may not be ‘real’ in the sense of ‘literal, tangible, observable’ kinds of things.
5. Most importantly and finally, each of these genuinely intimidating things is ultimately subservient to God’s power. And that’s where Leviathan is such an interesting symbol.

Leviathan is worth an afternoon of googling. It was such an extraordinary symbol of chaos and real fear in ancient times. Sometimes it seems to be an ordinary frightening creature- perhaps a crocodile- at other times, the stuff of legends, like the sea monster that eats ships lost at sea, whose real existence is verified by any number of drunken sailors. Real or not, Leviathan is a powerful symbol of real fear.

And so, in Psalm 104, a celebratory creation psalm, we hear that God made Leviathan for a distinct purpose. When the psalm speaks of the seas, it says, “There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.” The image is that this fearsome creature of the deep, the loathsome threat to life as we know it, is jumping hoops when God blows a whistle, a cheap form of entertainment in God’s very own HDTV.

And that is the ultimate fate of all of these real forms intimidation: Even Leviathan/Rome/etc. are under God’s providential care.


  1. Amen brother. Far from intimidation, the prophet says in Isaiah 40, "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God . . . and the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind TOGETHER will see it." We sing it and hear it sung for us - we should remember.

  2. Hi Mark.

    Would you be kind enough to elaborate slighty on your title? Either I don't understand it, or I'm simply trying to read too much into a light pun.

    I came across your blog, as I was googling that very pun just to scan for previous usage.


  3. Hi Christian.
    I'm not sure which pun you are referring to. "Artificial Intimidation" perhaps? If so, I use that pun to indicate that"Left Behind Theology" often uses powerful symbols literally, to evoke sheer terror, when the Scriptures often use them differently. Yes, they are scary and powerful symbols, but they are also always under God's providential rule, made known to us in the suffering death of the cross. To evoke them as sheer symbols of terror is to separate them from the salvation story, of which they are a part. That's why I call the intimidation "artificial."
    Thanks for coming to the site,


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