Monday, May 23, 2011

That Thing That Didn't Happen

If for whatever reason you missed it, the rapture was supposed to happen on Saturday according to 89-year-old engineer, radio preacher, and amateur Biblical numerologist Harold Camping. And in case you were wondering, it didn't happen.

Twitter and Facebook were fun places to be for at least a week leading up to May 21st, at least at first. People made seemingly endless jokes about the world ending, which ended up being variations on being left behind, tying up loose ends, partying it up, or being taken up. A Facebook event for "post-rapture looting" was created, which I did say I would attend. But alas, I say it was fun "at first," because by Saturday I was ready for 6 p.m. to come and go, for the nothing to get itself over with, and then move on. I found myself feeling less jovial about it and more seriously irritated, and not just at the jokes but at the entire fiasco that Camping's movement had stirred up. Any cracks that I made late in the week, including on Saturday, were made with more and more hints of anger, including my Facebook status a minute after the supposed start: "It's 6:01 p.m. EPIC RAPTURE FAIL." A few people had some laughs over it, and it's seemingly the end, right? Of the fiasco, I mean.

Maybe not.

Before I get to that, let's talk about the rapture for a second. Ever wonder where that belief came from? In the 1800s, a guy named John Nelson Darby came up with a system called Dispensationalism, the belief that there are seven dispensations, or covenants, where God begins to relate to the world in a new way. The first dispensation was Adam and Eve, the second with Noah, and on through Moses, Jesus while he was on earth, the church, and the rapture is part of the bringing in the latest dispensation.

The rapture itself is mostly based on a passage from 1 Thessalonians. Here it is in context:
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. 15For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words. - 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
It's verses 16-17 that are the crux of the matter: this vision of Jesus coming to take the faithful up with him. Darby connected this passage with verses in Daniel, the Gospels, and Revelation to create his belief in the rapture, the tribulation, and Jesus' eventual re-return for the people who weren't taken the first time.

Two things are immediately wrong with this, not to mention others. First is that the point of this passage is to comfort people uncertain of what will happen to their dead loved ones when Jesus returns. Primarily, Paul is offering pastoral care to them. Second, every New Testament writer expected Jesus to return one single time. One return, one event, one decisive cleanup and reformation of heaven and earth, not rescuing some and then destroying everything and everybody else later. A more indepth explanation and study of what Revelation is truly about will wait for another time.

So yeah, first off the rapture is not Biblical. For most of the church's existence, no such belief even existed. There was the expectation and hope that Jesus would return, but not to scoop up some and then come back later to finish the job. And yet here we are a few days removed from somebody's latest prediction that such a thing was about to happen, the second failed prediction for this particular person. That was the first cause of my increased anger, irritation, and snark as May 21st approached.

The second was sheer embarrassment, the increasingly tiresome felt need to distance and make myself distinct from the latest fringe group to whom the media decided to give endless amounts of attention. It's little wonder why an ever-increasing amount of people in this country are leaving the church, are laughing at Christians, roll their eyes in even the most sane and rational Christian's beliefs thanks to the stereotypes perpetuated by the people who make the evening news. Whether he's a con artist or an outright loony who truly did believe that his calculations were correct, he made the rest of us look bad. Again.

Finally, and I confess I had to have this pointed out to me, is what Camping's devoted followers may be feeling now. Gene at Rucksack Revolution helps flesh it out:
And, perhaps much more importantly, I wonder about something else. Assuming (and overall, I do think it is quite safe to assume) the Rapture does not occur tomorrow, where will that leave those believers and followers of Christ who are disappointed by this turn of events?

Judging by the jokes and such that I have heard from others and read on Twitter and Facebook (including sadly, a number of my own comments), those who are disappointed by that turn of events will not have very many people or places to turn to.

And once again, the Body of Christ has egg on it's face, whether it's egg from false predictions or egg from false overtones of pastoral care and believers comforting believers.
Harold Camping has, unwittingly or not, now produced a group of people feeling some mixture of hurt, betrayal, doubt, and directionlessness, not to mention the strong possibility that they sold off and gave up most or all of their lives in preparation for Saturday, and yes, gave money to Camping's ministry in the process. What are they going to do now? Who is going to reach out to them and help them rebuild what they've lost?

I can't say that I personally ever felt any malice or annoyance toward Camping's followers...I saved it all for Camping himself. He was the perpetrator of the whole thing, whether out of willful deceit or true theological buffoonery. Will he offer any kind of refund or apology? Will he help the people who believed him in any way? Will he shut down his ministry in the process, or "recalculate" and try again in a few years?

Time will tell, I suppose. When it comes to such things, I'll neither get my hopes up nor set a date.