What would it be like if we could leaves the boundaries of space and time and journey to Heaven and listen in as God discusses with angels and within the Trinity the events of our time? What if this discussion centered around the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? How different would God’s perspective be than our own?
“The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures died, and a third of the ships were destroyed” (Revelation 8:8-9).
Might this be our way of understanding Heaven’s description of the oil spill? I don’t mean that Revelation 8:8-9 is a direct prediction, a prophecy that was fulfilled when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded. I don’t think that one moment in history in April, 2010, is the single fulfillment of prophecy. I don’t believe Revelation works that way exactly.
Rather, it seems that John was given Heaven’s perspective regarding events on earth. And he wrote as a human being trying to understand what God had shown him. The incredible visions Revelation are real pictures of how the events of the history of mankind fall into God’s overall plan. But the comparisons are not direct. John wrote within his own timeframe and in a specific literary style. He wasn’t envisioning an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He didn’t know what the Gulf of Mexico was and his version of a spill involved an overturned flask of the olive variety. The symbols and method of employing those symbols he used fit his context.
Many commentators have tried to link the prophecy of Revelation to events in 20th and 21st century Israel and 20th and 21st century America. John Wesley interprets Revelation chapter 8 in terms of the events of the history of the Roman Empire and the Mediterranean world in the 1st through 5th centuries AD. His approach (and that of many other Bible scholars, theologians, church history experts, and preachers) is the right one. John wrote in terms intelligible in John’s world. John was guided by faith and had the Roman world in view.
Thanks to the brilliance of the Holy Spirit who inspired him, he wrote words that speak beyond him. What John said goes beyond what John could know because the Holy Spirit gave his words a power no human, no matter how creative, could possess or communicate. So, John saw a vision that he understood to be the forces of heaven at work in destroying marine life in a dramatic fashion, killing 1/3 of aquatic life and sinking 1/3 of the ships at see.
Whatever it was that John saw, it accurately relayed this truth. God is all powerful – more powerful than the sea. Humankind is amazing. I can’t imaging swimming at 5000 feet below sea level. I can’t really conceptualize 5000 feet below sea level much less doing anything down there. But, human beings figured out how to go down their and drill for oil. Whether or not you think it is a good idea to do that, it’s impressive that humans can. And with the impressive depths of human knowledge, comes the ability to do great good and to do great damage as in the case of the oil spill.
However, no matter how great the feats of humans (landing a man on the moon, discovering a concoction of drugs that help someone live with aids), or the evil (the Holocaust, genocides throughout history), or the mess (Deepwater Horizon, Exxon Valdese), humanity’s power, while great, pales before God. One third of the aquatic life died (Rev. 8:8). One third of the fresh waters became undrinkable (v.11). One third of the stars were darkened (v.12). John saw God’s power on display.
God did not cause the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. British Petroleum bears the blame for that. And, it is a huge disaster and should not be understated. We must pray for the clean-up efforts and for the people of the Gulf Coast region. Those among us (“we” being we who do not live along the Gulf Coast) who are available to help with the clean-up and have the ability to offer the kind of help needed should sacrifice personal time to go and help. That’s what Christians do. At the same time, we read Revelation and stand with mouths agape at the power of God. And reading Revelation to the last chapter, we know one day that those who are in Christ will be in the Heavenly city where there will be no oil spills.