May 23, 2011

did you get carried away by the RAPTURE?

Judment DayAre you ready for JUDGMENT DAY? Haven’t you seen all the websites warning us to prepare? One website predicts that the RAPTURE will occur some time in 2011 [link]. Not to mention the thousands of billboards and ads sponsored by another group of  Christians warning:

May 21, 2011
The BIBLE Guarantees It!  [link]

If you haven’t prepared yet, don’t bother, it’s too late…  looks like you missed the boat.

But just in case you’re wondering what the RAPTURE is all about, I suggest the following video. While Harold Camping, who predicted that end of the world would occur on May 21st, was obviously wrong, one thing remains certain, it won’t be long before RAPTURE enthusiasts announce another date: 

“Are you ready for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ? The greatest prophecy in the bible is not far from fulfillment. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout with the voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God and the dead in Jesus Christ will rise first. Then those of us who are alive and still remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

“Are you ready for his return? Some day soon in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye… events unspeakably strange and startling will occur…. Speeding trains will plunge unsuspecting passengers into a black eternity as Christian engineers are snatched from their throttle. Operations will be halted mid way as believing surgeons are caught up to be forever with the Lord…. There will be milk deliveries unmade, there will be stores remaining closed… housework will be left undone because Christian maids have been promoted to higher realms…”

“For some [Christians] it will mean joyful release from suffering and pain… To all Christians the rapture will mean removal from the presence of sin, drinking, from murder, gambling, unbelief… from wars and rumor of war.”

But for the unsaved: the rapture

” you will be LEFT BEHIND to suffer tribulation as the world has never seen…
The sea will become as the blood of a dead man, rivers and fountains will be turned into blood, men will be scorched with great heat, men will be covered with noisome and grevious sores. The islands of the sea will disappear. There will be lightening and thunder and a great earthquake such as was not since man was upon the earth.”

“Are you ready to pass through all these horrible experiences and then go on to a black eternity? Or are you ready now to accept the Lord Jesus as your Savior and be caught up to meet him in the air when he comes for his own?”

There is some debate amongst Christians who believe in the Rapture whether they’ll be whisked away before or after the suffering begins. The pre-millennialists, who seem to be the majority, insist they’ll be carried away beforehand  [link].

But most agree that, all the sinners who aren’t “born again,” or “saved” (depending upon your vernacular) will be LEFT BEHIND to suffer these “unspeakable torments.” If you’re worried you’ll be caught unprepared, you can go to yet another site RAPTURE READY [link] and find all the info you need, including new predictions for Jesus’ return.

Beam me up, ScottyFor me, the RAPTURE sounds like one of those hairy moments on Star Trek when Captain Kirk, trapped on a planet about to be eaten by space monsters, shouts into his communicator: “BEAM ME UP SCOTTY!” When I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place, all I want is to be transported out of there. Given the massive problems confronting us today: the threat of violence, the ecological crisis, the rapid growth in global population which will place an ever increasing strain on the world’s limited resources, its easy to understandCatherine Keller Apocalypse Now and Then why so many Christians want to believe in the RAPTURE, but is it really the Christian thing to do? Isn’t this running away from our problems? Refusing to take responsibility for the mess we’ve made of things? Leaving others to suffer the consequences?  Think about it: the tribulations described above read like a grocery list of the bad effects of OUR irresponsible behavior.

As process theologian Catherine Keller demonstrates there’s a link between “imagining the world out of existence,” and  the “material habits of world-waste ruining our civilization.” The “expectancy that Our Father will make us a shiny new world when this one breaks explicitly correlates with a willingness to dump this one.” (Keller, Apocalypse Now and Then, 2)

In 1996 when Keller published this she stated that one-fourth of all Americans believe in this kind of end of world scenario (Keller, 8). A decade later a 2005 Newsweek poll revealed that 55% believe in the Rapture, suggesting that RAPTURE READINESS is on the rise - a response to heightening crises around the globe. As our consumption increases unfettered, I’d be willing to bet that the May 21st flop will hardly put a dent in this trend.

To understand the logic at work here, we need to return to the key RAPTURE texts. The pivotal Greek word which appears in these passages is αἴρω (airō) = to take away [see lexicon]. In Matthew 24:37-44 [link], one of the most popular Rapture texts, αἴρω describes the plight of those who were swept away by Noah’s flood. Jesus warns his Noah's Floodlisteners:

For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and SWEPT THEM ALL AWAY, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

Notice that in Jesus’ retelling of the Genesis story of the Flood, Noah is LEFT BEHIND in the ark while the SINNERS are CARRIED AWAY.  Jesus continues: “Then two will be in the field and one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.” Given what Jesus says above, those taken are those swept away by the flood. How did it get reversed? 

This is followed by a short parable: “if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not have let his house be brokefleeing the delugen into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.“  Those who believe in the Rapture equate the thief with the Son of Man who’s going to sneak into the house unannounced and steal those who are ready away to safety. This is despite the fact that earlier in the chapter Matthew warns that the coming of the Son of Man coincides with a tidal wave of violent events which will flood Jerusalem, a deluge will happen so quickly that there will be little if any time to escape.

Many Christians, have been told, some of them since they were children, to read these cataclysmic events, not as the effects of their own behavior, but as signs of the RAPTURE, that when the moment comes they’re to be ready and awake, waiting for Jesus to transport them out of there…. but what if it’s really the opposite scenario?

For instance, following 9/11, Americans were easily SWEPT into a war, which many of us now regret. Unfortunately, at the time, it was nearly impossible to resist being CARRIED AWAY by the demands for revenge and the patriotic fervor which overtook the nation. Isn’t this closer to Jesus’ statement in Matthew’s text? Since 9/11 we’ve experienced the painful costs of getting CARRIED AWAY: a war which has stolen not only our loved ones, but also our sense of national security. If only we had recognized the thief in the night we could have stayed awake, we wouldn’t have let our fear get the best of us, if only…

As long as we place our hope in some form of rescue, we won’t be ready. When the tidal wave of trouble comes, as it always does, we’ll be caught off-guard without a lifeboat. Jesus is not up in the sky, he remained on earth. Caught, as he was, between a rock and a hard place, he never cried out, “Beam me up Scotty!When everyone around him, including the disciples, were overtaken by fear and CARRIED AWAY by the flood of events, Jesus chose to be LEFT BEHIND!

Left Behind Video GamePaul Nuechterlein says it well, “Jesus himself ultimately became the one left behind. All others had gotten swept up in the unanimous violence against him. He was the only one not caught up in the flood of violence as a perpetrator and instead became its victim for our sakes. “

Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary [link]

Why would Jesus choose to be LEFT BEHIND, to become a “victim for our sakes”? French thinker, René Girard claims that in the midst of this contagion Jesus became the scapegoat - to expose the role of the victim, who is forced to suffer the consequences ofRene Girard our bad behavior. This casts an alarming light on all the apocalyptic fervor in the United States. Isn’t it a form of preparation, a way of tapping into mass hysteria unconsciously motivated by fear, by which we achieve the unanimous emotional threshold that must be reached for scapegoating and Jesus Abandoned on the Crossits ensuing catharsis to occur? Over the course of our history countless millions have been scapegoated. Eventually it has to catch up with us… and somewhere hidden in the back of our minds we know this.

The thief who comes in the night may be read as the tidal wave of violence threatening to overtake us at any moment, a form of judgment or Second Coming, or even a sort of advent of an “unrepresentable” object of fear breaking into our reality - the accumulated suffering of the past centuries, the unfathomable amount of bloodshed - enough to fill an ocean. The countless masses who died unnecessarily of hunger and disease, the people trampled underfoot by the relentless march of global capitalism, beginning, as Keller describes, with the rape andLeft Behind Cartoon pillage of the Americas by the European conquistadors.

I find it interesting that another rapture text Matthew 11:12 goes ignored: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” The Greek word for “take it by force” is ἁρπάζω (harpazō) = carry off by force, a derivative of αἱρέω which is closely related to αἴρω (airō) = to take away. The Latin is rapio, rape. Isn’t it related? The ravaging of the environment, global warming  - all this is represented in the video above, “Are you ready?” Are you ready for the accumulated effects of this violence to finally exact its revenge? Incredibly, belief in the RAPTURE resolves all this by transforming “the object of fear into the site of hope,” (Keller, 6) a mechanism so powerful, it even renders it’s gruesome subject matter suitable for children’s cartoons and video games.

The apocalyptic fervor of Jesus’ own time allowed the people to deflect the pronouncement of judgment delivered by John the Baptist, the greatest of prophets. but tensions continued to mount until, in the blink of an eye, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed, the people CARRIED AWAY once again.Left Behind

I’d rather be LEFT BEHIND, to stay put, to wait, and let it come before it goes that far.  And even if the waters rise and the flood approaches, Jacques Derridato seek ways to resist apocalyptic fervor. Rather than deny or deflect our violence onto others, to prepare spaces within ourselves, a sort of Noah’s Ark, in which we integrate what we’ve always denied and learn to live on in new ways. As LEFT BEHIND “we have begun to respond.” Indeed I read the RAPTURE as postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida does: “We have begun to be caught up, we are caught up, in a certain responsibility - as if it were possible to think a responsibility without freedom. We are invested with an undeniable responsibility at the moment we begin to signify something….” (Derrida, Politics of Friendship, 231)

Let me end by offering a song from my RAPTURE PLAYLIST: “Runaway” by The National  [link]The National

There’s no savin’ anything
I was swallowing the shine of the sun
There’s no savin’ anything
How we swallowed the sun

But I won’t be no runaway
‘Cause I won’t run
No, I won’t be no runaway
What makes you think I’m enjoyin’ being led to the flood?
We got another thing comin’ undone
And it’s takin’ us over


For more on the Rapture go to Peter Rollins [link] revised version of the RAPTURE [link]:

Peter Rollins Rapture

Just as it was written by those prophets of old, the last days of the Earth overflowed with suffering and pain. In those dark days a huge pale horse rode through the Earth with Death upon its back and Hell in its wake. During this great tribulation the Earth was scorched with the fires of war, rivers ran red with blood, the soil withheld its fruit and disease descended like a mist. One by one all the nations of the Earth were brought to their knees.

Far from all the suffering, high up in the heavenly realm, God watched the events unfold with a heavy heart. An ominous silence had descended upon heaven as the angels witnessed the Earth being plunged into darkness and despair. But this could only continue for so long for, at the designated time, God stood upright, breathed deeply and addressed the angels,

“The time has now come for me to separate the sheep from the goats, the healthy wheat from the inedible chaff”

Having spoken these words God slowly turned to face the world and called forth to the church with a booming voice,

“Rise up and ascend to heaven all of you who have who have sought to escape the horrors of this world by sheltering beneath my wing. Come to me all who have turned from this suffering world by calling out ‘Lord, Lord’”.

In an instant millions where caught up in the clouds and ascended into the heavenly realm. Leaving the suffering world behind them.

Once this great rapture had taken place God paused for a moment and then addressed the angels, saying,

“It is done, I have separated the people born of my spirit from those who have turned from me. It is time now for us leave this place and take up residence in the Earth, for it is there that we shall find our people. The ones who would forsake heaven in order to embrace the earth. The few who would turn away from eternity itself to serve at the feet of a fragile, broken life that passes from existence in but an instant”.

And so it was that God and the heavenly host left that place to dwell among those who had rooted themselves upon the earth. Quietly supporting the ones who had forsaken God for the world and thus who bore the mark God. The few who had discovered heaven in the very act of forsaking it.

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