THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
and the Human Economy
and the Human Economy
WEEK III / DAY I
Monday, February 26, 2018
Scripture / Read Revelation 18
In Revelation, "Babylon" represents human idolatry and injustice taken to the extreme. Babylon is presented as a place of luxury, prosperity, commerce — and slavery. Babylon itself was a distant memory by the first century — the imperial city of that time was Rome. And Rome’s empire, of course, is now a distant memory to us. Its wealth and beauty has in fact been laid waste, just as John foretold.
Our History and Its Legacy
In another context, the list of luxury goods in Revelation 18:11-13 would be a celebration of international trade. Gold, silver, and jewels; cinnamon and spices; olive oil and fine flour — all these beautiful things are the fruit of human culture. Indeed, many of them are included elsewhere in prophetic and apocalyptic writings as part of the glories of the New Jerusalem.
But this catalog of trade ends with a horrible final entry (first called to my attention by the biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann): “cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves — and human lives” (Revelation 18:13). The wealth of "Babylon" comes from treating human beings as one more economic possession. People have been turned into things. Profitable things.
Few if any empires in history have avoided this awful transmutation. Certainly not the economic powers that settled "the New World." To extract the abundance of the Americas, Europeans not only brutally suppressed the indigenous occupants of the land, but as reported here, from 1526 to 1867, “some 12.5 million slaves had been shipped from Africa, and 10.7 million had arrived in the Americas.” Only about 6 percent were shipped to North America, while the rest were shipped to the plantations of the Caribbean and South America. Regardless of destination, these human beings were treated in law or practice as property — profitable things. (See here for a comparative perspective on slavery in the Americas.)
Like the people of "Babylon," we behold the astonishing wealth and real beauty of our nation — and yet that wealth is interwoven with a global economic system that has relentless incentives, centuries ago but also today, to dehumanize and exploit human lives. God will not overlook the destruction of his image — “in one hour all this wealth [will be] laid waste” (Revelation 18:17).
Reflection and Response / Prayer of Repentance
Not far from where you live there is a city — or you may live at its very heart. Its most coveted addresses are places of luxury of which Babylon or Rome could only dream. But that city also carries a legacy of violence — a history of treating people as profitable things. What is the residue of that legacy? Who bears its scars today? If that legacy were fully and truly judged, would you be one of the kings, merchants, and sailors who mourns the loss of wealth? Or would you say with the scorned of the earth, “Hallelujah! The smoke goes up from her forever and ever” (Revelation 19:3)?
For most of us, the best we can hope is that we would be in both groups. We have profited from exploitative economies past and present. But by grace we can also heed the call of Revelation 18:4, “Come out of her, my people.” Spend a few moments in prayer...
- Lamenting all the things that would be lost, and will be lost, in God’s judgment of our own nation and world,
- Lamenting even more the loss that has come as our economies have turned people into things, and
- Praying for the courage to resist evil and the lure of the "Babylons" of our day.
Written by Andy Crouch