Taken Up with Jesus (part 3)

rapture 4-001In previous two posts I’ve explained what I believe, or don’t believe, about the rapture. But why even talk about it—whether or not there’ll be a rapture? After all, our human interpretation of scripture won’t change God’s plans. Either the church will be raptured or it won’t. My opinion doesn’t change the truth.

However, our theology has repercussions. We will act differently depending on what we believe. Therefore, I need to ask, what is the fruit of our view on the rapture? Does it draw us closer to God? Does it make us more loving, more compassionate, more like Jesus?

One perspective is that anticipation of the rapture will encourage us to spread the gospel. After all, we don’t want anyone to be left behind! However, all orthodox Christians believe in a final judgment and hell—why should the rapture make any difference in our motivation?

What instead happens is that the church appears vindictive. Consider this quote by Thomas S. McCall:

“My hope is that you are rejoicing that, as a believer, you will not have to go through the awesome tribulation, and that you will be able to observe those events from a balcony seat in heaven.”

Doesn’t that bother you? We can sit as voyeurs, entertained by the suffering of billions of people. I just can’t imagine Jesus joining us.

rapture 5The whole idea of the rapture seems indifferent at best, more so cruel and uncaring. We want to be raptured so we don’t have to deal with pain and suffering. Nowhere in this is the idea that those going through pain and suffering need Christians around to love them. When the world is literally falling apart, who else is qualified to offer hope and life? As our pastor expressed it, “Those who want to be raptured lack compassion.” We are to be salt and light especially during the hardest times.

The American church has a hard time dealing with suffering. We can’t believe that God would allow us to be in pain. We neglect all the verses about the benefits suffering brings into our lives and the lives of others. Consider Romans 5:3-4:

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

We ignore Jesus as the man of sorrows, acquainted with suffering. No wonder that an escapist doctrine such as the rapture has taken such strong root in our culture!

Believing that we’ll avoid the tribulation has us reassuring ourselves that we’ll be safe and secure when we ought to be building our faith “muscles.” I love this quote from Corrie Ten Boom, (cited in Renewal Theology: Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, by John Rodman Williams):

In China the Christians were told, ‘Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes, you will be translated—raptured.’ Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a bishop from China say, sadly, ‘We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution rather than telling them Jesus would come first.’ … I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation…

What did Jesus talk about? Redemption, healing, His return—and the warning that “in this world you will have tribulation.”

In my first post on this topic, I mentioned how my interested in the rapture was rekindled by a sermon at church. Our pastor concluded with these words:

Discipleship is less about predicting the future, and more about being faithful in the present. Don’t be afraid of changing seasons. Shine now so others know where to find you in the dark.

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