Biblical “mythology:” an allegorical representation of the divine victory over evil: the language of the oppressed: the promise of God’s sure redemption, in the ancient cosmological overtones of a merging of heaven and earth.
A “myth” in this context is historically true, but has also become an empowering story, our identity marker, a transforming worldview, to illuminate our calling in confusing times in any generation. Biblical myth empowers imagination in our current faith/ hope/ love journey of renewal. It helps give meaning to our struggle. It helps energise our resistance. We are not beyond such myth in our modern world. Biblical myth has been replaced in our times by a neo-pagan myth, the human god-elites, technocrats and celebrities “saving the world” by selecting who survives through abortion, sterilization, depopulation, genetic modifications, war, the impoverishment of “deplorables,” the destruction of families, wasting of farmlands, the growth of monopolies, cultural disintegration, and the removal of civil liberties.
Biblical myth translates into every era in a way that literal narrative cannot. It opens the conscience to the real battle between good and evil and inspires an awakening. And for this reason this language is heavily censored by those in control. It is too dangerous. It confronts the deification of the culture’s status quo as the contemporary “religion.” In the Old Testament, afflicted people referred to empires like Egypt, Assyria and Babylon as “Behemoth,” “Leviathan” and “Rahab:” “Monsters of the Sea.” The Exodus, the victory over the sea and the Jubilee, the return from Babylonian exile and the renewed dwelling places (Isaiah 32:18, 58:12, Ezekiel 47-48), become a paradigm of God’s certain intervention against self-centredness in our own hearts, and the centralised captivity of the global community.
“Your foes roared in the place where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs… They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your name. They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!” They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land. We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be. How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them! But God is my King from long ago; he brings salvation on the earth. It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave it to feed Israel in the desert. It was you who opened up springs and streams; you dried up the ever-flowing rivers. The day is yours, and yours also the night; you established the sun and moon. It was you who set all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.” (Psalm 74:4-17)
The global powers are against the sanctuary, where God’s image is in his people. Pulling down the church eradicates the constraint against the greed of the powers and their control of the creation. It seems like God isn’t watching, as we go through the battle, because the victory is delayed. But our own hearts are being renewed before the battle is won. Lamentation and repentance must start with ourselves. Then God stills the sea, as in Genesis 1, as in the Red Sea, which poetically represents the pagan powers. Darkness is exposed and driven back, as in John 1:5, the sons of God are revealed, and creation is restored, as in John 1:12 and Romans 8. The wealth stolen by the beast is given back to the people. In Ezekiel, the pagan waters are healed. In Isaiah 7-8 the springs, the still waters of peace, are compared to the destructive waters of covetous rule, the torrential rivers that flood their banks and destroy villages. Then Psalm 74 invokes creation, the unity of heaven and earth: God has not forsaken the world but acts with the same power through his redeemed community to restore. He moves creation from chaos to order, which means sabbath rest, causing exploited lands to flourish. Creation is history but just as importantly its poetry reveals our vocation, giving powerful identity to our communities: we are God’s creational people, through whom he is bringing order from chaos to our world. His Spirit, word and light still bring form and substance through us.
In European folklore, mythology draws upon real past struggles for “redemption” for the common people. This can be seen in Beowulf or St. George, the dragon killers, or in the language of resistance in British nursery rhymes. These show the imbalance of the struggle, the sheer size and animal nature of the rulers compared to the weak. But the biblical beasts oppressing God’s people were nothing compared to the strength of God, who acted on behalf of those in need. He acts through the courageous, his people of faith. Ezekiel, Daniel and Revelation are filled with such language: the kingdom comes through our cross, not with violence, but with new creation.
Those in control of the current world mock mythological language, “fact-checking” it, partly to show their superiority, and partly in their attempt to defeat a movement of mercy and justice much greater than themselves. But you can’t “fact-check” symbolic speech, a poetic cry. It’s apocalyptic narrative, a very powerful language in a prophetic forward movement. It is ultimately victorious and shapes the future. All cultures use this kind of speech, helping us to resist the division the beast uses to defeat us. It’s a language that the rulers don’t understand, which is why they crucified the Lord and why they pursue us. Their own wickedness is the trap they walk into, revealing their darkness against the backdrop of God’s light. This is the battle we are engaged in, where our part seems weak to the world, but is the revelation of the righteousness that renews. As always, that which is foolishness to the world is God’s wisdom. He has chosen the simple things to bring down the wise.
Hats off to a prophetic movement of integrity, to those imprisoned, to murdered whistle-blowers, to truth-tellers whose careers are stolen, or they are said to be crazy. This is a badge of honour because they said the same of Christ. “Blessed are you when you are persecuted for my name’s sake.” These are “the light of the world.” “But woe to you who are full now…” The battle lines of biblical cosmology are drawn for us all and there is no escaping our involvement on one side or the other. The language of the Sermon on the Mount is the language of apocalypse, to reveal something new to those who hear: the overthrow of the beast in renewed hearts, the coming of a new rule, turning worldly ways upside down, the ascendancy of truth, from “me first” to care of each other.