Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What to Do When the Rapture Doesn't Come

On Sunday, I wrote this post about the day after the Rapture didn't come.  This part is an idea that's not new to me, one that I come back to again and again:  "And as my friends said, 'Hey, we didn't get raptured,' I said, 'Maybe we did, and this is heaven.'"

It's not exactly a new idea, although it's not linked to the idea of Rapture ever.  Most people like the idea of a Rapture or an Apocalypse because it means we don't need to worry about earthly problems.

But honestly, if you go back to read the whole Bible, and you look at the meanings of some of the words we throw around carelessly, words like Heaven, Paradise, and forever, if you dive deeply, you come back to the surface with some different ideas.

Jesus didn't come to earth to get us into Heaven.  We're not here to twiddle our thumbs and wait for death.  God hasn't given up on creation--far from it.  God loves this creation with a love that only the creator can have.

I've had friends shake their heads and say, "If the point of being a Christian isn't to get us into Heaven, then what is the point?"

To which I say, "Jesus came to show us how to live.  Not later in Heaven, but here, now."  Of course, if we all go to Heaven, great.  I won't reject that scenario.  But I think that Christians who focus on Heaven have missed the point.

I've been reading Rob Bell's Love Wins, and I'll post a review later this week.  Reading Bell's book sent me back to N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope:  Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.  Both books explore similar themes.  Wright's is the more in-depth and scholarly.

So, before I give you quotes, let's just take a moment and think about some questions.

How would we behave if we believed we had been raptured and we were already in Heaven?

How would we behave if we didn't believe that the Earth would be destroyed?

How would we behave if we believed that God would indeed redeem all of creation?

What if God redeems creation not by burning it up and starting over but by working with what's here?

Here are several of my favorite quotes from Surprised by Hope (all emphases are Wright's):

"Mostly, Jesus himself got a hearing from his contemporaries because of what he was doing.  They saw him saving people from sickness and death, and they heard him talking about a salvation, the message for which they had longed, that would go beyond the immediate into the ultimate future.  But the two were not unrelated, the present one a more visual aid of the future one or a trick to gain people's attention.  The whole point of what Jesus was up to was that he was doing, close up, in the present, what he was promising long-term, in the future.  And what he was promising for that future, and doing in that present, was not saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so that they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of creation which is God's ultimate purpose--and so they could thus become colleagues and partners in that larger project" (page 192).

"What you do in the present--by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself--will last into God's future.  These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether . . . . They are part of what we may call building for God's kingdom" (page 193).

"But what we can and must do in the present, if we are obedient to the gospel, if we are following Jesus, and if we are indwelt, energized, and directed by the Spirit, is to build for the kingdom.  This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more:  what you do in the Lord is not in vain.  You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff.  Your are not restoring a great painting that's shortly going to be thrown on the fire" (page 208).

Wright then goes on to list all the wonderful good works/activities/creations that we could do and says, ". . .  all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make" (page 208).

So, when you need encouragement to do great and/or beautiful things, remember that it all becomes part of the ultimate redemption of the world.

But for those of you still hungering for the Apocalypse, you might remember that Martin Luther says that the proper response to knowing that the world would end the next day is to plant a tree (Wright tells us this bit on page 209).

And for those of you still believing in an old-fashioned Apocalypse, and wondering what to do?  My friend teaches Mythology (primarily that of the Greeks and the Romans) and ends with the idea of apocalypse. The last sign to tell us that the apocalypse is almost here? The muses will desert us. So, each time we appreciate beauty or each time we create something, we've put off the apocalypse by one more day--or at least 15 more minutes.

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