This was originally posted on orlandograce.org. This is the first of two posts examining similarities and differences between John Lennon’s Imagine and John the Apostle’s Revelation.
At first glance one wouldn’t think John Lennon and John the Apostle would have very much in common. One, a self-proclaimed atheist and pop star, the other, one of the twelve disciples and author of more than a few New Testament documents. Though there are obvious differences, there exist some similarities. We’re going to quickly look at John Lennon’s Imagine and the John the Apostle’s Revelation and see what there is to be gained from both.
Okay, it’s obvious, but let’s state it. There are wild differences between these people and their work. This is the easy part to see and understand and doesn’t require much from us. Imagine puts forth the possibility of a utopia on earth through erasing the things that so often divide us as humans: religion, nations, class differences, etc.:
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky…
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too…
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can…
In the book of Revelation, John writes about a utopia on earth, too, but describes it differently, as in Rev 7:9:
“…behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…”
Like Imagine, palm branches symbolize peace, but there are differences in people. Tribes, peoples, languages— the things that normally divide us are still present and are being brought together.
There is a difference in how this utopia looks, but also in its purpose. Lennon’s image is of world peace, sharing in our unity:
Imagine all the people living life in peace…
And the world will be as one…
Imagine all the people sharing all the world…
And the world will live as one
John’s image is one that includes this human-to-human peace, but also incorporates a larger goal:
“All nations will come and worship you [the Lord], for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (Rev 15:4)
There is not only a difference between the purpose and vision, but also in how these two perfect places come into being. Revelation teaches that this world will not be enacted through what we do, but through what He will do, and is doing:
…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Rev 21:4, 5)
In our worship of our Creator/Recreator God, we find the product of His mission an actual utopia here on earth, renamed as the new heaves and earth. If we think our national or economic differences are the ultimate roots of a lack of unity, the answer would be to remove those differences. Imagine tries to remove all of our differences and substitute a new religion, a form of secular humanism. But if we’re all the same, is that unity or merely a shallow sameness?
Revelation affirms the existence of some differences (race, national boundaries, etc.), but draws upon one ultimate difference: those who worship God and those who worship something else. Differences in humanity are more than accepted, indeed, cultural differences are celebrated, but only in the light that comes from the glory of God (Rev 21:23; 22:5).
For Imagine, this responsibility lies completely on our shoulders. It is entirely up to us to bring about world peace. Not an easy task (impossible, even?). Revelation affirms our responsibility and actions, but also teaches that ultimately God is solely responsible for bringing about His peace. This doesn’t relieve Christians of doing work, in fact quite the opposite. The comforting design of God’s sovereignty over all things gives us freedom to be human, to work and to live.
Lennon says we need to remove our idea of God for peace, the Revelator says we need to submit to the real God for peace.
Next week we’ll look at the similarities between the two works and see what Lennon can teach us.