Four Groups Who Laughed at the Rapture

I’m not writing to scoff at Harold Camping’s Rapture date that has come and gone like the stink of a passing garbage truck.  There are plenty of other people poking fun, and doing it better than I could. Everything that could be said has been said, twisted every way to expose every angle and to squeeze out another laugh. I admit I’ve laughed and I’ve chuckled. There might have been a guffaw or two.

Some have begun to offer the pastoral approach to help teach those who were misguided and other words of wisdom to aid in the cleanup. These words are needed.

But now that everyone has caught their collective breath, its time for some additional reflection. And to remind the laughers and the pointers, in the tradition of banal, elementary school proverbs, that when you point at someone, you have three fingers pointing right back at you.

There are four broad categories of scoffers and pointers that I noticed. What follows is what I imagine those three fingers are implying as they point in accusation at their respective owners.

1. The Establishment Media

While not direct scoffers per se, they made the whole feast possible by spending so much time telling us about it.  With a wink and a smirk lurking behind the thin veil of their “neutrality” faces, they handed out invitations to the freak show and shouted out the meeting times from the rooftops. They never laughed in public, but you could tell they really wanted to.

You can’t blame them.  It was newsworthy, and its their job. But a locomotive doesn’t need someone to get out and push once it gains some speed and momentum. Anyone who thinks a little bit of pushing can help, if only they are the ones who are doing the pushing, can rightly be labeled as someone who has an inflated sense of their own importance.  Which, come to think of it, describes the establishment media pretty well.

2. The Atheist Blogosphere

Yes, there is a sphere o’ blogs whose name is based on something that they all don’t believe in. So even though they gladly curse His name and deny His existence, all of their thoughts and ramblings orbit the Truth, in some form or another. The poor things just can’t escape the inevitable. It’s like the moons of Jupiter formed a club whose core, foundational principle was denying the existence of planets.

And oh how they cackled in glee.  Another chance to point and laugh at Christians and their silly doomsday scenarios.

Two things.

One, most of these atheists are leftist progressives, and therefore hold to their own doomsday apocalypses and eschatons, which are also based on spurious and questionable mathematics.  Just ask them about global warming or climate change, and they will get dead serious.  Not serious enough to stop themselves from breathing and releasing more of the obviously deadly pollutant known as CO2 into the atmosphere, but hey, there are fair-weather Christians too. Not everyone has the same level of faith.

Since they tend be pretty gullible, there are many more examples that I don’t have time to expound upon. Chesterton said through his character Father Brown

“It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can’t see things as they are.”

But their gullibility helps lead into…

Two, most are also amateur evolutionary biologists.  That means they go around quoting Richard Dawkins at each other. Evolution in itself is pretty funny, but then you get people extracting self-righteous morality from it, as many are in the habit of doing, and it becomes downright hilarious.

In a world where actions, including laughter and why we laugh, are reduced to simple chemical reactions in the brain, it really doesn’t matter what someone else’s chemical reactions are causing them to believe and do.  Shake up a can of soda and open it, and you have a chemical reaction that is just as important as anything that happens in the brain. Well, maybe not.  At least the can of soda has an ultimate  purpose for it’s existence…

So they can claim that it gives them pleasure to mock and ridicule.  I don’t doubt they know how to set off the right chemical reactions in their brains to tickle their funny bone.  Any animal can do that.  But based on their world-view, they cannot claim any sort of intellectual superiority over those they are mocking.  They would just be comparing one meaningless set of chemical reactions to another.  Different, yes.  One set better than the other?  Who cares?

3. Other Christians Who Believe in the Rapture

While they found it easy to scoff at the prophecy of Camping, they didn’t realize that the idea of the Rapture is pretty goofy in itself. You don’t have to put an arbitrary date on something to make it ahistorical and unbiblical. This is where a large swath of American Evangelicalism falls. It is characterized by extreme pessimism, an idolatrous gaze cast toward the physical nation of Israel, and a continuous lookout for signs in current events like a witch looking at the entrails of a slaughtered calf.

4. Other Christians Who Don’t Believe in the Rapture, but Still Maintain a Good Dose of Worldly Pessimism

A large minority of Christians take the pilgrim and citizen language of the New Testament, unknowingly filter it through Greek and gnostic philosophy, and then combine it with a dash of Enlightenment thinking.  It treats the world as God’s Vietnam, getting worse and worse, descending further and further into darkness.  His ultimate plan is to rescue the troops, whoever he can get out in time, and then napalm the whole place.  The troops he was able to fit on the rescue craft will then live in disembodied bliss in s0me heavenly realm. The Bible says that Christ came to save the world and fulfill the promises of Abraham…except not really. He certainly gave it his best shot, though. Bless His heart.

This type of thinking is just as ahistorical and unbiblical as the Rapture and the bad theology that surrounds it. And the pessimism it encourages is just as corrosive.  Why have kids?  Why work?  Why pay your credit card bills? Why do anything?  The world is going to hell, despite God’s efforts, and regardless of anything I could possibly do.  Its all going to burn anyway.  With this conceptual scheme, the sooner you die after your baptism, the better.

Some ancient Stoics had similar ideas.  To remain logically consistent in their framework, they committed suicide. Better to die sooner rather than later. Especially if things get unbearable, as they did for Cato when Julius Caesar’s victory was assured. I was reminded of the Stoic’s choice while reading the following snippet from an article in the LA Times, about people who quit their jobs or did other foolish things because they believed this false prophet:

Keith Bauer, a 38-year-old tractor-trailer driver from Westminster, Md., took last week off from work, packed his wife, young son and a relative in their SUV and crossed the country.

If it was his last week on Earth, he wanted to see parts of it he’d always heard about but missed, such as the Grand Canyon. With maxed-out credit cards and a growing mountain of bills, he said, the rapture would have been a relief.

If he is so eager to leave this world, the Stoic’s answer of suicide would seem to solve the same problems. What a relief! That may sound harsh,  but it’s where this theological framework logically leads.

Instead of the battalions of God conquering the world (but not with the weapons of the world), we become content to hold down the fort while everything collapses around us, waiting for God to come to the rescue, even though he has already equipped us for every good work. Occasionally, we muster up the courage to open the gates and attempt to break the siege, but we always go back behind the walls to our spiritual ghettos.

This is where I used to fall.  I laughed at the idea of the Rapture, even though my eschatology caused me to have the same outlook and attitude as many of those who hold to the Rapture.  But at least I didn’t believe in the Rapture! I bore the same sour fruit, yet assumed I was a different tree.  Now that’s true silliness.

Eschatology matters.  We dismiss it sometimes, thinking, for some baffling reason, that the destination has no bearing on the journey.  But it influences the path taken.  It influences the mode of travel chosen. It influences the mindset of the travelers. In other words, it colors everything about the journey. This is one lesson we can’t afford to miss, and one this Rapture nonsense should drill into our heads.

Did you see other categories of mockers during this latest Rapture scare?  Did anything cause you to step back and look at your own beliefs?

Tasty Sampler 5/20

When Christians Would Be Utterly Insane, an expert from John Piper’s prayer:

It occurs to me to say, Father, that we Christians would be utterly insane to envy people who pitch themselves out of the window of sin—on top of a skyscraper—to enjoy a vapor’s exhilaration of the freefall of greed, or the freefall of drugs, or power, or fame, or sex, or job success—and then death. We would just be insane to envy the world.

A little parable from the Royal Wedding and the new bride:

As those bullies watched this moment they would realise that now, because of her Prince, she’s royalty.

The guy who says he only uses his iPhone in church to read the Bible:

What’s that you say? Am I checking my email, right here in the middle of church? Sir, I am insulted you would even ask that. How dare you!

The Amish have an intentional logic that governs their uses of technology:

By not owning vehicles, the Amish fulfill numerous dimensions of Gelassenheit. They maintain humility by not being caught up in the status-seeking of what kind of car they drive. They maintain the interdependence of a close community and resist the independence afforded by automatic mobility. They retain the human scale of living instead of the automotive scale. Thus, they have walkable communities instead of driveable suburbs.

Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs speaks to the Senate about the denigration of skilled workers in our society:

In high schools, the vocational arts have all but vanished. We’ve elevated the importance of “higher education” to such a lofty perch that all other forms of knowledge are now labeled “alternative.” Millions of parents and kids see apprenticeships and on-the-job-training opportunities as “vocational consolation prizes,” best suited for those not cut out for a four-year degree. And still, we talk about millions of “shovel ready” jobs for a society that doesn’t encourage people to pick up a shovel.

During a scathing review of The End of Sexuality, Dr. Peter Jones dedicates a large section to the religious and cultural implications of homosexuality:

Homosexuality is not limited here to morals or the lack thereof. It is employed as the attempt to define the very nature of the cosmos as inherently divine. It is for this reason that the Old Testament denounces homosexuality in such strong terms, since it is a sign of pagan religion.

 

Isaac Blesses Jacob Without Being Tricked

At the beginning of Genesis 28, Isaac finally blesses Jacob without having to be tricked, but still after being prodded by his dutiful wife.

And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother’s father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughers of Laban thy mother’s brother. And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which God gave unto Abraham.” (Gen. 28:1-4)

We have a reiteration of the promise coupled with the same “foreigner” or “stranger” language. The patriarchs must first be pilgrims in the promised land before they can inherit it, and this is our context for the New Testament use of similar language regarding the Christian’s current state.

Pilgrims in the Promised Land…Just a Passing Through?

It is appropriate that Abraham, the father of our faith, should be listed in Hebrews 11 not just once, but twice. The writer gives more words only to Moses. The first time deals with Abraham’s call to leave his father’s house.

By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. (Heb 11:8-10)

Abraham was a sojourner.  A pilgrim. More than that, he was a sojourner in a land that God promised him, and since God promised him, he knew that, in a sense, it belonged to him already. God blessed him so much that the Hittites called him a mighty prince (Gen. 23:5), powerful rulers sought to make alliances with him and his offspring (Gen 21:22,23), and he defeats an alliance of five kings with only 318 men (Gen 14:15). Not bad for a sojourner.

Not bad, at least, when compared with the kind of sojourner we normally assume the New Testament writers are talking about, especially when referring to Christians. Peter tells us to “pass the time of your sojourning here” (1 Peter 1:17) and then again saying “I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

A whole tradition has grown from the idea of being a pilgrim or alien of the world, sharpened by Paul’s language of citizenship, and colored with Greek and gnostic philosophy in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries. It can be summed up nicely in the song “This World is Not My Home.”

This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.

In essence, our true home is in the heavenly realm, and someday, we will finally leave this wicked, corrupt world and be able to return home.  Our pilgrimage will be over. The rest of the world can literally go to Hell.

But is this the picture we get? Is this really what being a pilgrim in the world means?

Was Abraham, the first sojourner of faith and the context for the New Testament use of these terms, just a passing through the promised land?

To ask the question is to answer it. Abraham even performs a symbolic act of staking his claim in the land of Canaan.  He buys a field from one of the Hittites to bury Sarah, and then his own bones are laid to rest in the same tomb.  The conquest didn’t start with Joshua.  It started with Abraham after the death of his wife.

Abraham is a pilgrim in the promised land, which means he is called a pilgrim in his own land.  And he knows it.

How does this relate to the children of the promise today?

First, we must realize that just as Abraham buying a plot of land was a symbolic act of conquest, the later conquest of the promised land by the Israelites was also a symbolic act of something greater.

For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. (Rom. 4:13)

Abraham was not just promised Canaan.  He was promised that all of the nations through him would be blessed, and according to Paul, this means that he would inherit the world.

And we are inheritors of the same promise.

And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal 3:29)

Christ himself says that the meek will inherit the earth. How much time have we spent explaining away the plain sense of this beatitude, when the plain sense fits so well with the promise of Abraham?

Christ has risen.  All authority has been given to him in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). The new order has been established, God has named his king, and his king will rule at his right hand until all of his enemies bow in homage (Psalm 110:1). And what is the domain of the king?

Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. (Psalm 2:8)

Through Christ, the promise of Abraham will come to fruition. We are pilgrims now in the promised land, heirs of the promise.  But that means we are the advance guard, building wells and establishing alters like Abraham our father, knowing that we wander in our inheritance. For he “hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). Creation itself longs for the final victory.

For the creation waits with eager longing forthe revealing of the sons of God. For the creationwas subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know thatthe whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Rom. 8:21-22, ESV)

As someone once said, the world is not God’s Vietnam.  He is not scrambling to bring the troops home from a theater of war that is crumbling, in some kind of strategic retreat.

Pilgrimages of the people of God don’t end with a whimper and a sigh.  They don’t end with a rescue.

They end in conquest. They end in victory.

“That God may be all in all.” Amen.

What about you? Have you viewed the call to be a sojourner in this world as a call to simply “hold down the fort?” Do you believe the promises that “the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world”(1 Jn. 4:14)?