Isn’t The Second Coming Redundant?


La Foule Illuminee (The Illuminated Crowd)

As in so much else in which we use the abstraction of words to convey visceral meaning, any discussion of God’s judgement, the Rapture, the Second Coming, the Tribulation, Revelation–whatever terms you want to use in whatever organizational structure–turns upon definition.

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:

1) Creation
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.

Creative Commons License image credit: Chuck Welch

3 thoughts on “Isn’t The Second Coming Redundant?

  1. “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.”

    And perhaps, therein lies the rub with many religious as well as secular organizations.  Power seems to be an equal-opportunity corrupter — whether personally or organizationally; and whether among the faithful or the heathens.

    I’ve lived in countries not dominated by Christianity — but where personal integrity, family values, and high moral standards are taken very seriously in the fabric of the culture.  From that experience, I find the notion that my faith  (or anyone else’s) is somehow better than another — or the only way to whatever salvation there may be is an absurdity — and an arrogant one at that.

    So good intentions granted, I find evangelizing to be insulting and insufferable.

    As an example, this whole fight over official prayer in the public square is nothing more than a power trip by people who are arrogant enough to think that everyone else should beieve exactly as they do — and like it.  None of us has that right — no matter the goodness of our intentions.

  2. Thanks for accepting my view as informed and worth consideration, Billy. I’ve really tried to go at this discussion with as much humility yet strength in my beliefs as possible, and I appreciate that you’ve done the same. Like you’ve said in another comments section, if we can come at discussions/debates as people of goodwill then things can get done or at least understandings can be reached. It would be nice to see that attitude in Washington more often.

    Your questions about the need of a rapture or period of judgment are completely logical. I’ve wrestled with those and numerous other questions that don’t seem to make sense. Even taking my Calvinistic view of things, it’s been hard to understand how if God is all-loving, then why isn’t every person guaranteed salvation? Wouldn’t the most loving thing for Him to do be to ensure an eternity of peace in His presence for all His creation? Logically, yes.

    But that brings me again to my preface in my other article, and I’ll borrow a quote from one of my favorite authors/pastors: “I’d rather be more Biblical than logical” — John Piper (I don’t hold to all the Old Testament laws, though, because the New Testament makes it clear we’re under a New Covenant). The rapture isn’t logical. But Jesus and the disciples said it would happen, so I believe it will. I’d encourage you to read the link in my commentary about another interpretation, where the writer argues that the rapture actually means all those who do not believe in Christ will be taken away when He returns, and everyone else will remain on earth as God creates His new kingdom here. There’s lots of room to interpret what Christ’s return will look like, and honestly it probably won’t look anything like Left Behind described it. I’m not giving any person enough credit to think that we can predict that.

    So, I wish I could give you a clear corresponding point for why there will be a second coming, but I guess I can’t. I can only tell you that Jesus said He will return, some people will remain and others won’t. I’ll give another link that doesn’t really take a position on what Christ’s return will look like, but tries to define the different views: Hopefully that helps, and hopefully I’ve cleared up some misconceptions about how evangelicals (at least a lot of us) view the end times.

    • Hey Brandt:

      Really enjoyed the exchange. And really, my questions above are more rhetorical than anything else. You don’t have to have an answer. But I appreciate your reading and thinking. And I know there are a number of thoughtful and spiritually humble evangelists out there. 

      And honestly, we heathens need you more than your less thoughtful brethren do. My only admonition to you is to speak up a bit in your own religious circles (maybe you already do) when matters of certainty and who is outcast and how, come up.

      There is a tendency, I think, for some Christians to think of the Rapture, etc., in terms of how it reflects on or helps or harms Christianity, as opposed to the implications it has for the world in front of us, which includes me. Christianity is obviously not the totality of the world. I hope you’ll try to remind your fellow travelers of that.   

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