When I ask my 24-year-old grandson, Michael, how he feels after a hard day at work, he always slumps down in his chair, closes his eyes, and says: “I’m good.” What in the world does that mean? He doesn’t feel “good.” He feels exhausted and tired and maybe even frustrated. Why does he say he’s good?
I hear a lot of young people using that terminology. Like my grandson, they can’t parse that word for me and explain why they use that phrase, but I’m beginning to think I know why. I would never tell my grandson this, but I think he’s talking apocalyptically. He’s dreaming of a moment of relief and comfort — yet to come soon. He’s exhausted now but he’s good because “relief is on the way.”
The biblical book of Daniel was probably written around the year 164 B.C., when Israel’s biggest problem was Syria (of all places), and the famous Maccabee brothers went to war against that country. The war was bloody and long and miserable, but Daniel has “apocalyptic visions” that Israel will find their way out of this mess.
Daniel says: “I saw one like the son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven …” (Daniel 7:13). And this man was going to make things “good” again. It’s not so good right now with all the fighting and suffering and dying, but we’re good — because the son of man is going to fix it. The Greek word for apocalypsis means an uncovering. We use it as the uncovering of secrets from the future that will make sense out of our crazy realities today. It’s the religious form of dreaming.
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St. Paul is the Bible’s greatest dreamer. His early converts in the Greek town of Thessalonica were in a political and religious mess. Politically they were under Nero’s Roman rule (not a happy time) and religiously they were part pagan, part Jewish and part Paul’s new Christianity (not a happy mix). They needed the dream of a better future, and Paul gave it to them.
“I’ve had a revelation from the Lord,” he told them (1Thess.4:16). And Paul proceeded to picture Christ descending from heaven like Daniel’s son of man, picking up everyone — even those who had already died — and taking all up to heaven with him. It was an apocalyptic dream, intended to make the Thessalonians feel good. And I’m sure it did.
Mothers do this, don’t they, when their little child comes running to them with a hurt finger? Mom kisses the finger and says: “All better now.” That means: “You’re good now and the finger will heal in a while.” How does she know? Well, mothers are the best dreamers of all.
However, dreams can become nightmares, and the last book of the Bible, called the Apocalypse (or Revelations in some Bibles) is truly a nightmare. We read of tribulations and wars and bloody conflicts; we read of a slaughtered lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, and a woman clothed with the sun, and a fiery red dragon with seven heads and 10 horns, and a great beast coming up out of the sea. And the word apocalypse gets a scary name.
But apocalyptic dreams do not have to be scary nightmares. Prophets and preachers and politicians have been spouting encouraging dreams for years. Isn’t that what faith is all about? We believe the future will be better than the present.
“Believe me,” whispers the preacher, “the time is coming when all your pain will vanish, and all your problems will go away.” And if we believe it, we go home feeling good.
“Believe me,” the politician screams, “I will improve the economy; I will drive out ISIS; I will stop illegal immigration.” And if we believe that, we feel good.
“I’m good,” my grandson says. Indeed he is. His vision of the future is secure; his dream of a happy and productive life is realistic. He may be tired and exhausted and even frustrated in his present job, but he can sit down, close his eyes, and dream.
And when he does, he’s good.