The Conquest of Suffering: Revelation’s use of the Combat Myth in light of the Hebrew Theodicy

Revelation, possibly more so than any book in the canon of scripture, contains nightmarish visions. Its pages are populated by death and destruction on a global scale, literal rivers of blood, and monsters of mythic proportions. Yet, amidst the horror, John claims that his apocalypse blesses those believers who hear it and take it to heart (Rev 1:3, 22:7). Some argue that such a claim would appear to be incongruous with the contents of the book. For some, there is no blessing or hope in the book of Revelation; it only produces more terror and suffering. I would suggest that such readings misunderstand the imagery of Revelation. Rather than perpetuating and glorifying human suffering, the book of Revelation offers a viable model for how one can respond to the problem of suffering and evil. More specifically, I argue that John’s use of the combat myth in the Apocalypse can be understood as a kind of model for how we do theodicy.

I will argue this first by differentiating the modern Logical Problem of Evil from Hebrew ways of thinking about evil and suffering. I will then discuss the role the combat myth played in Hebrew thought regarding this issue, examining three examples from the Psalms that use the combat myth in this way. Following this, I will explore how John utilizes the combat myth in Revelation 12-13 and 19:11-20:10 to address the experiences of the congregations to whom he penned the book of Revelation in ways that are consistent with and build on previous Hebrew uses. Finally, I will discuss how John’s use of the combat myth might model a helpful approach to evil and suffering in modern circumstances.