Imagine an event taking place right where you live, where pandemonium replaces order, where people are being massacred all around, where there is such a rush to flee that parents are faced with "Shophies' Choice" over which child to rescue and which one to leave to fate.
Okay, that's pretty grim and hard to imagine, I know. But, it does happen and not just in books or movies. Names and phrases are all we need to remember it: the Killing Fields, the Lost Boys of the Sudan, the Shoah in Europe, the massacre of Rwanda - and those are just 20th century terms. It seems that in every age, among a variety of peoples, there have been occasions when the horror was simply too much to comprehend, even many years after in retrospect.
My question is: How can one speak of such unspeakable tragedies? The problem of language in the face of tragedy was a challenge for many biblical writers. For example, if you are living in Jerusalem just after 70AD, how do you describe the horror of seeing your temple destroyed by the Roman military? Do you say, "Approximately 93 per cent of the stones have been damaged beyond repair?" Or, do you say, "Oh, the humanity!"? The second choice is the least literal,but probably truer to the experience than the first. That's the challenge of finding a fitting language for an unspeakable tragedy.
The Lament Psalms in the psalter seem to show one way of giving words to tragedy. I would argue that apocalyptic language is another. The point is certainly not to give a play-by-play description of predetermined future events. That's the fundamental problem with so much of what passes for "interpretations" of apocalyptic texts in the Bible. The point is, we should encounter those texts as poetry, more than literal speech.
And ... More importantly, we should imitate those texts. Enough of this ridiculous enterprise of taking poetry literally. Instead, we should learn to speak poetry. Then we would be in a better position t hear the real cries if despair and hope in texts about "the Great Tribulation." Then we would be able to give better and truer language to the tragedies of our own day.
Whaddya say? Shall we give it a go over the next few weeks?