I’m leading a book study that is critical of the theology of the Rapture. The Rapture, for all of you who don’t know, is the belief that Jesus will come back to earth, provide an escape to true believers before God throws a hissy fit and smites everything and everyone else left behind causing the destruction of the earth. That’s the short version. And granted I’m a bit biased – the Rapture is bunk. It’s a fairy tale that was made up by a preacher about 180 years ago.
The book we are using entitled “The Rapture Exposed” by Dr. Barbara Rossing. It’s been out since 2004, yet it is just as relevant today as when it was first published. Rossing is a seminary professor at the Lutheran Seminary in Chicago. Her book is really well done – one of my favorites actually. She blows massive hole in all the ideas of the Rapture to show that it’s a made up fantasy that has some serious geopolitical consequences. I highly encourage you to read it.
I’m not going take you through all the debunking that Rossing does – She does a much better job of it than I ever could (read the book!). So today I’m not really interested in a debate on specific verses.
During our book discussion a couple of interesting questions came up – “How popular is this notion of the Rapture?” and “How did the idea of the Rapture catch on so well with so many?”
I don’t have specific answer to those questions. I know that in the US, the idea of the Rapture still has a large number of adherents. I would say this is not the case in Europe, from my experience. And I’m not comfortable to even guess what kind of sway the idea has on other continents.
All I know is that last night as I was driving home, I was flipping through radio stations and stopped when I heard preaching. It was someone going on about the Rapture – citing the same verses and ideas that we just read about and talked about during the book discussion. I was yelling at the radio saying things like “No, that’s not what it says” whenever the pastor was talking about weeks meaning years and other nonsense.
I couldn’t help but think of all the people who would be listening to this and believing every word as Gospel truth without exploring and examining the claims. Ugh!
So why is this theology popular? There’s probably lots of reason. I have my own theory, which is not tested in the least, but it’s a way for me to make sense of it. Rapture theology offers something that is common to other popular ideas – answers. In an age when there is a ton of chaos, uncertainty, and change, I would argue that the human desire for certainty and knowing grows stronger. Rapture has the future all set up to follow a specific path. There are plenty of answers, and very little mystery.
In a way, I see Rapture theology in the same light as the Prosperity gospel, and the die hard following of certain politicians who claim to have all the answers and offer easy solutions to big problems all the while asking nothing, or very little, from the followers.
Another commonality between these three – they are all fake. They put their hope in the idea of human certainty and knowing. They play off of fear, especially fear of the unknown, which draws people in even further. We have a desire to know. However, the reality is we know very little. And if we think we can put God into a box, well, I have to wonder – where does faith come in? Where does mystery come in? How about the idea that God is far bigger and more mysterious than we could ever imagine?
Maybe I just don’t have enough faith to buy into a notion that we can know for certain what’s going to happen or when. Maybe I’m a bit too cynical to buy what I see as the simplistic arguments that are spouted off so easily for complex situations. Maybe I just can’t equate material prosperity with God’s blessings – especially since Jesus was dirt poor and yet you’d think that the second person of the Trinity would be blessed.
Or maybe I just ask too many questions and am skeptical about easy solutions and people who think they have all the answers. Probably because from my experience, there aren’t easy answers because the problems aren’t easy. They are messy because people are involved. I don’t trust people who think they have all the answers either. They are full of it and themselves. That’s a dangerous combination. That means being right is far more important than anything else. And what happens when their version of right runs up against reality? They try to force reality to change to their version. There is no discussion or debate or talking about it. It’s either right or wrong. I’m blessed and you’re evil. That leads to some serious consequences. Things that I just can’t support.
Here’s my closing thought: Question things. Explore them. Test them. God is big enough to handle our questions and doubts. I’m not so sure some of God’s followers are though. Ideas like the Rapture make we wonder if we are really worshiping the same God.