Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Rapture



As I puttered through traffic on my way in to classes this morning, I found myself meditating a bit on the theology of the rapture.  With the deep and woeful disappointment of Harold Camping's followers now just a few days away, there are a whole bunch of folks who believe this is a central part of Christian theology.  That belief goes well beyond the devotees of that sepulchral radio evangelist.

It also goes deep into others who claim to be Jesus followers, like, say, in the toight-as-a-toiger teachings of our slickity local Jesus MegaCenter.  It's all over the place.

Rapture is just a central part of evangelical doctrine.  Folks eat it up with a spoon.  Tim LaHayes narrative extrapolations around the Rapture have sold an abundant pantload of Left Behind novels, and produced some of the most ragingly unwatchable films in the history of moviemaking.

Honestly, I just have never gotten it.  Not even a little bit.

I know it draws inspiration from an interpretation of one section of Luke's Gospel, in which Jesus says some are taken, and others are left.  And...well...that's pretty much it.  There are some extrapolations, followed by some interpretive gyrations, followed by some Olympic-level proof-texting, but it's essentially just that one little chunk of text, interpreted through the warping lens of the Archangel Scottie and his Bible-Believing transporter room.

Here's the essence of my problem.  This morning, as my sitting-in-traffic-mind immersed itself in the section of Faure's Requiem that was pouring through my six-speaker sound system, I found myself in a rapture-reverie.  I found myself viscerally envisioning that moment, were it to happen to me.

Now, I know this is a stretch.  As a progressive Christian, married to a Jew, a same-sex-relationship-affirming liberal Presbyterian, I know I'm not really on the Tim LaHaye shortlist.  Still, one never knows.

So here I am, envisioning what that moment would be like.  The world is coming apart.  Earthquakes.  Fires.  Buildings crumbling.  People crying out in terror.  And as one chosen, I'm unaffected.  I'm rising up, not really bodily, but into that deeper reality of God's presence.  I'm suffused with light, radiant with the power of my ascension to a place of peace and glory, my physical form yielding to my spiritual body as I began to move beyond the spreading cries and conflagration.

And it would just suck.  I'd feel horrible.  It would be the worst moment of my soon-to-be-over corporeal existence.

Why?

Because Jesus matters to me.  What he taught matters to me.  How he lived matters to me.  And from the Spirit of his radical and transforming compassion, I'd look down at the fading, burning world and weep.  I'd want none of that suffering for any of those souls remaining, even those who have hurt me deeply.  I'd feel not satisfied, or relieved, or joyous, but consumed with horror and loss and disappointment.

Like, say, Christ would have felt, if from the cross he had seen the story play out differently, watched the world consumed by annihilating fire, the fury of a father destroying everything that had hurt His child.  I can understand that anger, but it bears no resemblance to Christ.  It's a human rage.  If the fire had consumed centurion and swept aside zealot and pharisee, Christ would have seen it as betrayal.  He would truly have been forsaken.  His purpose, all his love, all his hope, all his teachings, all his transforming logos-radiant meat and bone and blood...wasted.

The reason the rapture works for folks, theologically, is that it is all about them.  It says, in defiance of the cross, that real Christians don't have to suffer when the world falls apart.  It reinforces ego and sense of otherness, at the expense for the hard Kingdom compassion that lies at the heart of the Gospel.

It just isn't Christian.

4 comments:

  1. Raised in Southern Baptist churches all my life, and only when I was all growed up seeing the light that is...well...everything else, I always heard about the rapture. If Revelation was studied, there was always that caveat "but this doesn't apply to us because we will already be raptured." Like you, I always struggled with that. When I met my wife, her mother and I discussed end-times stuff, and she said the rapture was true because God always protected His people from tribulation so He would obviously do so at the biggest Tribulation of them all.

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  2. Well said, as always. You're spot on: the Rapture may be interesting stuff, but it stands so much at odds with everything else we know from Christian faith. That's why I listed in my piece Creation, Incarnation, Sacrament, Resurrection, and New Creation--because they are fundamentals (if I may use that term) of our faith and the Rapture is about ignoring all of that and seeking not the transformation of renewal but the thrill of escape. It's just thoroughly unsatisfying and has nothing to do with the Gospel.

    Jeremy, the comment about God always protecting his people from tribulation is an interesting one precisely because it's just not true. If it were, there would be no book of Job, no Holocaust, no Christians in the arena, no Cross.

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  3. If you don't know, if you don't get it, then make some effort at knowing and getting it. There are plenty of eschatology books out there. Spend some time in the book of Revelation. Study it.

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  4. @ Randy: I've spent a lot of time studying Revelation, in both my Religious Studies program at the University of Virginia and at the graduate level. Having done so, I think I'm with Martin Luther on its utility as a text for teaching the Gospel.

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