There's a Good Reason We're All Going to Die

Because hoping for the rapture is a great way to waste your life.

Most people who claim to be Christians believe that death is just a beginning. They believe that, like Christ, their body will be resurrected to glory and they will spend eternity in the presence of God. It is a sign of hope, not despair and an occasion for joy, not sorrow.

However, death is still death. Faith may calm the nerves, but it won't take away the pain. When the grave tears the breath out of your lungs, being a Christian will offer no special benefit or discount. It is the consequence of participating in a evil, wretched world and it cannot be cheated or bargained with.

Many evangelicals will tell you a different story. If you're like me, you probably grew up hearing about a secret rapture of the church that will snatch believers out of this world and take them directly into God's presence. It's a nice bedtime story that captured the imagination of a generation for one simple reason: it led them to believe that they might not have to die.

For centuries, the church never saw such a thing in 1 Thessalonians 4. But in the 19th century, Anglo-Irish theologian, John Darby, decided that "being caught up in the clouds" must be a special disappearing act of believers that will occur right before a nasty period of global judgment.

Of course, there is absolutely no contextual evidence to suggest that this passage has anything to do with eschatology. Paul only brings it up to dispel the fear that God forgets the dead. And when he does go on to discuss Jesus' return, Paul again only encourages the Thessalonians that they have nothing to fear. There is not a single extended treatise on eschatology until his second letter to them which, conveniently, lacks any clarification of this rapture event.

Like many contrived doctrines, the rapture hinges on the interpretation of a single verse and uses that to color other parts of Scripture. For example, rapture theorists will use Jesus' words about "one taken and the other left behind" to support the secret part of the rapture. But not only does this beg the question, it usually quotes from Matthew's account which leaves out the part where the disciples ask Jesus where those taken will be taken. Luke records his cryptic answer suggesting death if not judgment.

What the rapture lacks in biblical support, it makes up for in mass hysteria. Though Darby had popularized the concept in theological circles, it wasn't until 1970's "The Late, Great Planet Earth" by Hal Lindsey that it gained widespread recognition. Lindsey was especially clever by tying current events like the Cold War into biblical prophecy--a marketing strategy that continues to prove itself to be very effective.

Even though there were over 240 lunar eclipses in the 20th century alone, these reddish moons still put some Christians into an apocalyptic frenzy because of a random prophecy by Joel. Lindsey's book tapped into something (the fear of death) that made normal people obsessed with watching for signs instead of living in love.

Ironically, Paul warned the Thessalonians about this. His hope for them was that they lead quiet lives and mind their own businesses so that their reputation would be good within the community. But some began teaching that Christ had already returned and subsequently became disruptive and lazy. They were no longer interested in doing good; they were interested in fostering their own agendas.

It should come as no surprise, then, that evangelical interest groups doubled within ten years of Lindsey's book and have continued to grow at that rate (even though their number had been steady for decades prior). These are groups like the Family Research Council who spend more time encouraging their constituents to picket Planned Parenthood than lend support to pregnant teenagers. 

They're not interested in doing good; they're interested in promoting an agenda. Rather than living a quiet life, evangelicals grow fatter and fatter on the fruit of their own fear. Without any real hope, they're weary of obeying the greatest commandments choosing, instead, to gorge their minds on end times predictions and fill their hands with empty offerings of piety.

Real hope is found in death, not the desperate avoidance of it. We only have a limited time to show Christ's love to those around us, so we have to make the most of the lives of have. Death reminds us of that. It keeps us focused on the needs of the world rather than longing for the end. It keeps us focused on others, not our own selfish desires. Though our spirits cry out, "Come, Lord Jesus," for the sake of our neighbors, our lips should say, "Please, a little while longer."


Photo credit: Leo Reynolds via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Comments

  1. Though our spirits cry out, "Come, Lord Jesus," for the sake of our neighbors, our lips should say, "Please, a little while longer." - Amen, brother! Amen!

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