Friday, 23 August 2013

Theology in the museum

Steps leading up to the Pergamon altar
Berlin has many wonderful museums. We only had time to visit four.

First was the Pergamon Museum which contains a restructuring of the large pagan temple in Pergamon. It certainly gave us an insight into the pressures to conform that faced the early Christians there on a daily basis. It was the centre of the city's activities, and as John says in Revelation 2 it was the seat of Satan. We sat awhile and thought of Antipas, the faithful witness mentioned by John. No doubt, he was not the only martyr there.

The museum also has a restructured Ishtar Gate and the grand and graphic entrance into the city of Babylon. Daniel and his friends would have walked this way when entering the city and would have noticed the attempt by Nebuchadnezzar to give timpression that he was almighty. Thankfully, it did not impress them and cause them to adjust their allegiance to God.

The museum also has relics from other empires and countries that once strutted across the stage. It reminds us that no matter how weak the kingdom of God seems it will survive and no matter how strong the opposing kingdom seems it will disappear and become a historical detail.

The second museum we went to was the Neues which mainly contains relics connected to ancient Egypt. Although Egypt had a long period of prominence, it too disappeared as a power eventually. I only saw one tentative mention of the Exodus and no mention of Moses despite the historical record in the Old Testament that he once belonged to the family of Pharaoh. The most striking feature of this museum was the hopeless view of the after-life believed and practised by the Egyptians. In contrast, we have the living hope given to us because of the resurrection of Jesus.

The third museum was a Jewish one. It is a very impressive building and its inner design is also well done. The section given to the Holocaust is very moving. It reminds us what human sinfulness can agree to do. And it was disturbing to note that anti-Semiticism has a long history in Europe. We could also see that Jews had contributed in many ways to culture and life in general. Yet I did not sense a great deal of optimism regarding the future. It was important for us to think about the gospel future promised to Israel in Romans 11. Hopefully, today's generation of Jews will experience it.

The fourth museum was the German Historical museum. A great deal of it was given to describing the awful consequences of German militarism of the last 150 years. For me, I was glad to see the place given to Martin Luther and his contribution to the Protestant Reformation. In God's purpose, the contribution of one German to the salvation of mankind is far greater than everything else produced by Germany. And it was good to thank God for the grace given to Martin Luther and his determination to stand for the doctrine of justification and to give the Bible to the German people in their own language.

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