I couldn’t help but follow the news coverage of the latest proponent of an end-of-the-world scenario. There were many who believed Harold Camping’s claims, and there were many who didn’t.
Some spent what would have been their last days promoting their belief that the “rapture” would take place last Saturday. Others laughed.
Not surprisingly, Saturday came and went, and most were left to think (once more) of the title to a Shakespearian comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Setting aside the clear scriptural teachings that no one can know the day or hour when Christ will return, I do not believe the “rapture” is a biblical concept.
It is based, primarily, on an erroneous interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 – “then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up (rapiemure in Latin) in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.”
If read from a historical perspective, one finds that this text draws on the imagery of citizens going out to welcome a ruler or dignitary and ushering them into their city with great fanfare and praise.
This text does not teach the popular notion of “rapture” in which “the elect” suddenly disappear from earth and arrive in heaven.
The idea in 1 Thessalonians is, in my opinion, about Christ returning and being welcomed into the world once more. It is about Christ coming back to earth. It is not about the people of earth departing for heaven.
The hope of the gospels is this: Heaven (the place where God’s will is always done) comes to earth (the place where God’s will is not always done).
In Matthew 6:10, Jesus’ disciples are instructed to pray for God’s kingdom to come, for God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
In Revelation 21:1-4, we read about a new heaven and a new earth (the age to come) replacing the first heaven and the first earth (the present age). The idea in both of these texts is heaven coming to earth, and this same concept is found throughout the biblical narrative.
As such, Camping and his disciples are misguided. I find their theology wanting, their proclamations amusing, their decisions foolish. And, I’ll admit, I enjoyed some of the lighthearted comments made at their expense.
However, I still grieve for them in the wake of their failed predictions because of the impact it will have on their lives.
These men and women truly believed the world would end Saturday, May 21. They invested time, energy, money and other resources to tell as many people as they could.
Some quit their jobs while others spent much of their savings to advertise the end of the world. Still others drove across the country to be with fellow believers when the “rapture” happened.
Imagine the disappointment, confusion, fear, doubt, uncertainty, despair. Imagine being Robert Fitzpatrick, who spent $140,000 of his retirement savings on advertisements. Imagine being Harold Camping – so sure you were right and then being “flabbergasted,” “looking for answers” with “nothing else to say.”
As a Christian, I believe I am called to love, care for, comfort, encourage and pray for everyone.
This includes people who I think are deluded at best and crazy at worst. This includes Christians who I think give the rest of us a bad name. This includes Camping and his followers – and other “rapture” adherents – I find wholly misguided.
Do they need a better theology? Yes. Do they need a better understanding of God? Of course. Do they need to be reminded that the Bible warns against such predictions? Absolutely.
Right now, though, I think they simply need our prayers and our help. We can all pray for Camping and his followers as they seek to put their lives, selves and faith back together. It is, I believe, what Christ would have us do.