What is with this rapture stuff?

Why have so many people gotten so caught up in the rapture warnings of Harold Camping and his group? If you have been hiding under a very big rock, Camping and his followers are a Christian group that believes with absolute certainty that the rapture of the church, which is a belief that Jesus will take his followers suddenly up into heaven, will occur today, May 21, at 6pm ET. They have devoted their time and money to getting the message out in major cities in the US.

The idea has gone viral. This is due at least in part to social networking. Jokes and pictures have been passed around en masse on Facebook and Twitter. I stopped for coffee with a friend a few days ago where they had placed a sign that said: “The world is going to end so you might as well leave a big tip.” Facebook friends are offering “left behind” parties and invitations to post-rapture looting revelry. Many of us plan to be raptured with Bono at the U2 concert tonight. Some plan to fill blow up dolls with helium and release them into the air at 6pm. I am enjoying the humor and the ways in which people stop for conversations about it all. But I can’t help but wonder if there is something deeper going on.

Are we living in an age that has lost hope? The economic collapse has been an Armageddon of sorts for many who have lost their homes and livelihoods. Multiple natural disasters have taken the same from many, many others. Political unrest is increasing around the world. And always, people become cannon fodder for wars and selfish agendas. And through my years in ministry and in counseling practice, I have observed that the brokenness and dysfunctions in the lives and relationships of so many are getting so much worse. The sheer loneliness that I see is overwhelming.

Postmodern thought rose out of broken promises. Science was to cure all diseases and feed everyone on earth. World War I was the war to end all wars. The American Dream was to become a reality for all, well, at least if you are white and straight and American. A friend of mine once observed that much of what Hollywood is producing these days is based on nostalgia.  It represents a culture that is looking backwards for its source material, as if there is not enough hope to move forward. Disaster movies have increased in number as well. Something about the end of days has planted itself deep within our psyches.

However, the way a belief roots itself in our collective mindset is through images and stories that grab our imaginations. The narrative of an angry, raging wrathful God that will destroy everything in order to rescue just a few is the product of a system of theological thought that has garnered enough attention to solidify itself into fact. This scenario resonates with our experiences of fear and guilt and powerlessness. We project our stuff onto God and conclude that surely his primary posture towards us all is wrath. But it is only one system of thought. The Story of God brings many more images of hope for all, images that overcome. I do believe that somewhere down deep in our Image-bearing hearts, we know that hope that is only for a few is truly not hope at all.

We all know that there’s a whole lot wrong with this world. However, it seems that this world is crying out for something to answer the fear and guilt of the world with something real. They need more than the “accept Jesus or else” and “this world doesn’t matter” claims. People are desperate to know that God is not about creating a Thomas Kincade life that only a few can achieve. They need to know that God is about making all things new. It is time to tell a better story. After all, God has never reneged on his declaration over all of creation: “It is very good.”

Every week in church we repeat the words, “Christ is making peace amongst us right here, right now. Let us share a sign of peace.” Let’s offer what we truly believe. And if Jesus does come for us all tonight, may he find us living out our hope in the many creative ways in which we can help to restore the beauty of his dream for all of creation.

And if he doesn’t, please enjoy the humor of our friends who are releasing balloon people into the air and leaving clothes and shoes on the sidewalks and jumping on trampolines to get a head start. Humor reflects hope, too!

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  • Exalted Son of the Resurrection

    Beautiful post, Ellen. I think the sentence that sticks with me most is: “We need images of hope for all. I do believe that somewhere down deep in our Image-bearing hearts, we know that hope that is only for a few is truly not hope at all.” I find myself thinking back to that Sunday night a few weeks ago, when we were told to “watch and wait” for an important announcement from the President – and it that it was going to be “good” news for “the whole world.” Those moments of anticipation, expectation . . . what could it be? My heart actually began to race. Good news for the entire world?? Only to find out that it was but the death of an enemy. But those moments beforehand told me a lot about our need for hope for all the people. My mind wanders off to the words of the angel to the lowly shepherds on that night long ago: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people…”

  • Tammy Carter

    I like rapture gopher…he looks way too cute to have lost hope! 😉 Great post, Ellen!

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