Brandt, in his honest and intriguing piece, refuses to play the definition game. Instead, he writes:
Jesus made it clear that he will return and that there will be a judgment where some are saved and others are condemned.
See Matthew 24-25, Luke 17, and John 15, for starters.
So I am firmly convinced that there will be an event that has been labeled the rapture. I won’t claim to know what that will look like. Will Christians float up into the sky and sit on clouds with the angels? Will graves be ripped open and the dead who were redeemed rise? Will some people simply disappear with their clothes left on the ground? None of the above?
The best answer I can give is I don’t know, and I’m comfortable not knowing the details or the timing.
I have no problem with this view, other than that I disagree. Unless we consider a wayward comet or the eventual nova of our sun or some other such calamity the Rapture, I don’t believe it will occur.
The vital element that allows Brandt and me to share an earthly community on pleasant and productive terms is his lack of definition of “others” and “condemned.”
That humility allows us to live together in comity and fellowship. It also allows for good-faith evangelicalism. Hey, I believe in the Second Coming. I honestly don’t know what that means, but I’m trying to prepare my soul. And I feel I should urge you to prepare as well, in whichever way you see fit. I have some suggestions, if you trust me. I think that’s a perfectly reasonable approach for a believer to take with us heathens. And we heathens, in turn, should treat it as the act of concern that it is.
The problem, of course, is that Brandt and I disagree about the relative portion of modern American Christians–particularly culturally conservative Christians–who approach the rest of their less religious community with that level of humility. I think the Left Behind books–and their massive, massive success–argue fairly strongly in my favor on that question. I would wager that more Americans have read a Left Behind book cover-to-cover than the Bible. (That may actually include me. I’ve read most, but I think not all, of the Bible over the years. And never in a single effort.)
So I want to ask again a question that Brandt didn’t really answer: Is there a qualitative difference between Harold Camping and the authors of the Left Behind books. If so, what is it?
[Late update: Brandt actually answered this question pretty clearly in the comments of his piece. Worth checking out.]
Along those lines, this is a marvelous paragraph, and I hope it’s true:
I would argue there are WAY more Christians working daily to help others escape hell than there are putting their “fire insurance” proudly on the mantle and sticking their nose up at the world. I would even go so far as to say anyone in the latter group doesn’t really have that fire insurance in the first place.
I have my doubts about this. And it also leads me to a second general question:
What is the point of the Second Coming/Rapture/etc. in a belief system that already allows for eternal judgement through the concepts of heaven and hell?
It’s easy to throw out the old “God works in mysterious ways, not for us to wonder, etc…” in response to this question. But I think that’s a cop-out.
Christianity gives us clear points for its key tenets. The point of Jesus’ life on earth? To die for our sins. The point of believing in Jesus’ as savior? To ascend to heaven upon death. To avoid condemnation. What’s the corresponding point of the Rapture? Why would the God of eternity and Creation get impatient with the pace of his judgement administered upon death?
I would argue that all religions exist to address and/or explain three fundamental–but largely unknowable–human issues:
2) How we should live
3) What happens when we die, as we know we all must.
We know there’s a world and universe that predates us; we know we exist; we know we’ll die. It is completely logical and rational for Christianity or any other religion to provide us a why for these self-evident truths. I actually have no problem with the idea that God judges us in one way or another after we die. I don’t especially believe in the classic concepts of heaven and hell, but they’re as good an explanation as any I have for the other side of consciousness.
But what role does the pre-death Rapture/Second Coming fill when God already pronounces eternal judgement for our performance in the millisecond of life that precedes Forever? Is it just demonstration of the power to undo Creation at His or Her or Its whim? If so, count me unimpressed. I will never consciously worship power for its own sake. A God, it seems to me, desiring of love and worship has obligations that extend beyond flexing muscle. Love underpins the power of Creation. Love gives the power purpose.
What is the purpose of the power on display in the Rapture? I don’t doubt for a second that a Rapturing God has the power to inflict suffering upon me that will cause me to instantly renounce whatever feeble thoughts of resistance to terrible Glory I may possess. But so what? Congratulations, God. You overpowered me.
It reminds me of that lovely passage from The Fellowship of the Ring, when Frodo offers Galadriel the Ring of Power to set things right.
“And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”
A Rapturing God is one that seizes and wields Power for its own sake, one that knows no difference between despair and love. That seems ungodly to me.