I was talking to my lovely Muslim neighbours today and mentioned that it was the Rapture today. They hadn’t heard that it was due to happen. They asked that we leave our youngest daughter behind (who is great friends with their youngest daughter). We both laughed and went our ways.
But for thousands of people today around the world there will be deep disappointment that it hasn’t happened. That Jesus hasn’t returned today. For some it will adversely affect their faith. They have put up their houses, their livelihoods; they have invested their sense of identity in the expectation that Jesus would return today. What can one say to such a person tomorrow when nothing will have happened today.
Of course, I am expecting Harold Camping to come up with something along the lines of my tweet earlier today:
But still we can feel superior and laugh but some felt so disconnected, so powerless that they saw the Rapture as the only way of having wrongs righted and their powerlessness vindicated.
There is a great article by Paul Raushenbush in the Huffington Post called Desiring the End of the World where he makes the point
My guess is that people who put their trust in these movements have a sense of powerlessness, and they need to believe in a radical solution to their current situation. While the rich and powerful make fun, the followers of Camping and the May 21 movement are largely working-class people who feel that they have less and less of a voice or place in this world. Like buying a lottery ticket, they are placing bets on a instant transformation of their personal situation where the last will become first, and the rich will be sent away empty.
There is a longing and a desire by so many that things ought to be different, that longing and desire is all too often greatest amongst the least and the oppressed. So, the focus on what is to come influenced the spirituals of the 19th century amongst the black slaves in the United States. Indeed all the way back to the early church and books like 1 & 2 Thessalonians and the book of Revelation shows the desire to see the second coming and for things to be put right. Again this wasn’t surprising in the early church where many were the poor and slaves – the left behind of society.
The other point to make is that of biblical interpretation. One of the main things that you find in many of these movements and cults is a certain way of reading the bible. Maggie Dawn makes the point in a post on her blog:
But the prediction itself usually comes from reading the Bible without reading everything else. If you only read the Bible you get a very strange view, both of the Bible and of the world
But its also not merely reading the Bible on its own that does this its also reading the Bible in isolation from other parts of the Bible. So, all too often you see people deciding what bit of the Bible they will use to interpret everything else. So, if you use some parts of the book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation as your interpretive lens then you will end up with a very strange and curious view of the Bible.
Or if you focus on the judgement passages you end up with a God of judgement. As an aside, I remember one Christian telling me that they were longing to see God come and judge humanity and it was obvious in the conversation it was aimed at others getting their just desserts and not herself.
Going back to my Muslim friends and neighbours he also wanted to see something happen. He shared how concerned he was with what was happening in the world and having things set to rights.
The rapture is the “get rich quick”, the “silver bullet”, the getting all our problems sorted out in one instant. A friend of mine once asked a lady in the queue at the supermarket why she was spending so much money on lottery tickets. She said that it was her “moment of hope” in the week.
Well there is a different perspective, a different way of seeing things. That way is seeing that the people of God, the Church, exists to bring Hope into the world. To share and work and care for people and the world. Back to Paul Raushenbus’s article:
We should not expect or hope for some cataclysmic event to bring about a better world — the Kingdom of God is among us if we have eyes to see it. We can live in God’s realm and find meaning through living out the commandments of love, forgiveness and peace. We can find spiritual and psychological relief when we offer prayers of gratitude for the blessings of family, and for the beauty of this world’s ecology, which cries out for redemption, not destruction. We can find purpose in our solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are suffering and by working to extend God’s blessings to those whom Jesus called “the least of these.”
My hope and prayer is that the poor hurt confused followers of Harold Camping will find that they can get beyond the narrow destructive views that Camping portrays and teaches and find the hope, love and forgiveness that Jesus came to share. One dying person, who wasn’t sure of faith, once said to me that if people were certain that you wouldn’t be able to get into church.