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“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
– 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 RSV
I am a bit of a messy person. My wife and former roommates can certainly attest to this. In my bachelor days, I used to not fold my laundry, but rather dump all my clean clothes on the floor in the corner of my bedroom and dig through the pile when I needed to find something to wear. My dirty clothes, of course, would end up in the laundry hamper as a way of somehow keeping my clean and dirty clothes separated. Sometimes I would even put off doing the dishes until the sink was so full that I had no choice but to wash them. This is the habit of how I used to treat the space I lived in.
Often when travelling, I would stay at a friend’s house or in a hotel. I was taught that, when you stay at someone else’s house, you leave your space in a better condition than it was when you first arrived – even in cases when you feel like you’re in a rush. This way, it shows respect and appreciation for the property of the owners who run the place.
It’s interesting to see the paradox in how I tend to treat these different spaces in contrast with each other. In some ways, I feel as though I coast through life rather than tending to the conditions of my own house, vehicle or (as bad as it sounds) my own body. I used to tell myself, one day I’ll catch my big break, then maybe I can have a clean house. Maybe some amazing opportunity will fall on my lap and cause me to have more time, a burst of energy or a desire to maintain my poor cleaning habits…
Whether it’s hearing about violence and injustice in various parts of the world, or simply longing for better circumstances, I find it’s easy to become depressed with life. Ecclesiastes 1:18 certainly makes light of that realization. Sometimes a person who’s spiritual or religious can often find themselves longing for their own version of Paradise in the midst of carrying their burdens. As someone who is religious myself, I see no wrong in longing for a safe haven or looking forward to the life hereafter. But when we become too obsessed with the negativity in our lives, it can be easy to slip into a state of complacency and coast through life waiting for that ‘big break’ or, to an extreme, develop a mindset where they lose their desire to find fulfillment in their lives.
There seems to be a morbid obsession among Christians about the rapture, especially here in North America. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is an ideology that God will sweep up all His believers, body and soul, into Heaven and the rest of humanity will remain here on earth to suffer. This particular ideology I’m referring to is called premillennial dispensationalism. Although many Evangelical churches share a common ideology in this regard, there are varying opinions among them about how Scripture reveals how such an event would occur. Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox and Messianic Jews tend to align more with amillennialism which means, in short, that they believe a similar event will happen but they are unsure of whether it comes before or after a worldwide tribulation. They also hesitate to use the term ‘rapture’ because it’s a word not explicitly mentioned in the Bible other than the words ‘caught up’ in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.
But since I’m neither a theologian nor a biblical scholar, I’m not going to expand too much on a topic I’m not as familiar with. Much rather, I want to address the ramifications of what obsessive rapture-belief may cause in people based on my own experiences and observations.
I will say, however, there is an ambiance of hope in anticipating Christ’s return, evil and sin being vanquished, the resurrection of the dead and a restoration of a new Heaven and Earth. But the sad extreme of it is many people who continually obsess over Christ’s return do not seem to show appreciation for the Earth as a precious gift from above. In theory, their disdain towards sin usually refers to humanity being corrupt as a whole, but subconsciously implies because the ground itself was cursed for Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:17) that it’s not worth saving. Christians (myself included) are often quick to moan about how dark and corrupt the world is and tend to forget how much beauty it contains and all the blessings that spring forth from it.
In many ways, our personal theology is reflected in how we treat our surroundings – and a degree of belief in the rapture seems to play a significant role in how we view life on earth.
It is worth noting that not all Christians, especially those whose beliefs align with premillennial dispensationalism, are apathetic towards caring for our planet. But constant obsession with the rapture and the end times seems to be, in particular, a concern associated with the complacency of a privileged, materialistic quality of life. Some could argue that the American Dream or Prosperity Theology plays a significant role in such a mindset, that the Earth was given to us by God to ravage and do as we please with in order to be prosperous. Such places in the world where there is little economic prosperity and rampant poverty seem to care more about daily survival than concerning themselves with being abducted from a deity in the sky.
What I find disturbing is when people obsess so much about being swept away from the face of the Earth as a sad excuse to free themselves from any temporal responsibilities or willingness to endure meaningful suffering. I’ve often heard the phrase, we live in the world, but we are not a part of it – but the fact of the matter is we do live in it, we affect it and in return are affected by it. We reap what we sow. It is our temporary home before eternity, and it’s the only one we have.
But then why don’t we treat it as such?
I’ve known church-going folks who deliberately litter, scoff at wildlife conservation and efforts to reduce our carbon footprint while saying that the world is going to be destroyed anyway. Given that destructive mindset, would it make any sense to treat our bodies with reckless abandon because we’re going to die anyways? Absolutely not. If setting our hopes on Christ’s imminent return comes at the cost of neglecting to care for ourselves, the people and the environment around us, is that a concern that we can afford? Is it right to have a faith that becomes so inwardly focused that we become numb to our surroundings? Is that how the historical Jesus from the Bible wants us to live?
Many Christians are well-acquainted with the popular book series Left Behind, which has also been made into a movie franchise. Although I’ve heard plenty of insight from friends who have read or seen them, I have absolutely no desire to waste my time with such propaganda. A book series that was only meant to be a fictitious story seems to have been venerated as though they were directly pulled from the Bible itself – all because it was inspired by the author’s own personal interpretation of Scripture. It’s amazing that Chronicles of Narnia hasn’t been treated in the same manner. There was even a video game inspired by the series that was released in which the player earns points for converting enemies as opposed to killing them. To put it politely, such entertainment and literature that commercializes this type of ideology for profit is a complete disgrace. It seems to have done a tremendous disservice to the credibility of American Christianity by distorting the context of a book written by a first-century Jewish Apostle.
Some historians would argue that rapture-theology was popularized in the 1830’s by John Darby, one of the original and most influential members of the Plymouth Brethren. If premillennial dispensationalism is an ideology that wasn’t widely accepted or taught in the early years of Christianity prior to the 1800’s, they how can it all of a sudden be a more accurate depiction of John’s Revelation than the writings of the Early Church Fathers who are also limited in their understanding of end-time theology?
Saint John’s vision isn’t my own revelation, nor is it John Darby’s, nor the Church Fathers, nor anyone else’s.
From my perspective, everyone who reads the Bible has a tendency to read it with a lens that is filtered by personal upbringing, experiences, biases, preconceived notions or a habit of reading words at face value. I’m guilty of it, myself. There have also been numerous occasions in the last few centuries when people tried to pinpoint the exact day when Christ would return.
Nobody knows exactly how the events of the apocalypse will unfold. And as far as determining the exact day when Christ will return….
We. Just. Don’t. Know.
If Christ does happen to come back in our lifetime, what are we doing to prepare for His return? Are we so obsessed with our personal interpretations of Scripture that we want to convert as many people as possible to think the same way that we forgot how to really love people the way Jesus wants us to? Is our belief in the rapture so important that we ought to detach ourselves from the reality of meaningful suffering? How can we genuinely seek to improve the quality of life for people on Earth when we spend so much time wishing to leave it all behind?
When it comes to anticipating Christ’s return, I think it’s important not to develop tunnel-vision and lose focus of where we are in relation to what God commands us to do through His Word. I think it’s important to realize that, just because we have faith that Jesus died for our sins, does not mean we are exempt from our responsibilities here on earth, nor does it exempt us from suffering of some form. We can be so wrapped-up on apocalyptic passages in the Bible that we forget about such messages like,
“But he who endures to the end will be saved.” – Matthew 24:13 RSV
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you,”
– Luke 6:27-31 RSV
It’s easy for us to think that the world will be fixed and perfect again after Christ returns. But here’s the thing……people have been anticipating His return for almost 2000 years. If we’re not dead yet and we still haven’t been raptured, then there’s probably a good reason why we’re still here.
Even though we should be living as though He could be back anytime, we cannot place our focus solely on expecting our big break.
“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
– Matthew 24:36 RSV