Rapture Nonsense and Serious Matters
I thought about commenting on the recent and hugely-noticed and ridiculously false prediction of “the Rapture” set for 21 May, but recent travels and other pressing demands prevented me from doing so. Now that the dust has settled a bit on Camping’s 21 May prediction (although he is reported now to have re-calculated the date for October this year), a few reflections on the matter.
First, it is profoundly troubling that people who claim to read and seek to follow biblical teaching allow themselves to be taken in by such predictions. Given that Jesus is portrayed as not knowing the timing for the eschatological events that he hoped for (Mark 13:32-33), and that in another text he is portrayed as rejecting any calculation of when the kingdom of God would appear (Luke 17:20-21), how do individuals work up the confidence (hmm, “confidence game”??) to make the sort of prediction that was publicized so widely?
Second, it’s also troubling that the news media report readily on this sort of nonsense, giving it prominence in newspapers and in TV and radio news programmes, virtually ignoring religion otherwise (oh, except for religious-inspired violence).
But perhaps the most troubling thing is that such phenomena trivialize, distort, and indeed miss entirely the serious religious and theological concerns that are involved in traditional Christian expressions of hope in God’s judgement and mercy. The biblical texts expressive of such hopes reflect concerns about the injustice, cruelty, and oppression that characterize much of human history, and specifically whether God cares and will in some way and some good time make things right. Will the human monsters of history answer for their crimes, if not before a human court, then before God? Does the prayer “your kingdom come” mean anything beyond a wish? Is death triumphant or is God finally triumphant, even over death? Is the universe finally destined simply for decay, atrophy, and futility, or is it a creation with the prospect of some grander outcome?
Whatever you think about religion and Christian faith in particular, these are questions that ring with human authenticity. These are the sorts of questions that traditional Christian eschatological hopes and ideas address, hopes for personal resurrection, hope for final judgement, hope for redemption of the creation. You may find any such hope futile, perhaps even pathetic, but surely the longings involved are understandable and by no means stupid.
So, instead of (or along with) the smug (but justifiable) ridicule at Camping’s silly predictions, another book recommendation for those (whether Christians or not) who might like to have more explanation of what biblical ideas of “eschatology” are: Craig C. Hill, In God’s Time: The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002).