I would be lying if I said the recent silliness of Harold Camping’s Rapture predictions and the subsequent commentary which followed before and after had not caused an interior restlessness and conflict within me. Not that for one moment I believed any of Camping’s nonsense, but the fact that I am Christian put me, unfortunately, under the big tent of Christianity which Camping chose to turn into a circus. And, I felt, once the circus lights went out and the event was over, there would be a lot of crap to clean up.
Predictions like Camping’s do not adhere to orthodox Christianity, as N.T. Wright explains here. Rather, “end of times” scenarios follow more the politics of distraction and impatience than Christian doctrine. One only has to point to words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew (“No one, not even the son, knows the day or hour…”) to render Camping’s predictions moot.
However, I, like many Christians, found myself defending my faith as a whole, for many chose to paint the entirety of Christianity with Camping’s brush. My unfortunate fascination with comments left on various news stories, such as I find on CNN.com or NPR.org, found this tendency in abundance. Many were vitriolic dismissals of faith in the “invisible man in the sky,” or at its worst, a secular call for the eradication of all religions (at which I wondered what the implementation of their plan would be like should they have their way). A shared agreement with the ridiculousness of Camping’s assertions was secondary to a general bashing of religion.
On both sides, as mentioned before, this event followed more the politics of distractions and impatience than Christian doctrine. Our sound bite culture thrives on the new gossip, the new product, and the new conflict; distractions are embedded into our culture. Why settle for what you have now? Here’s what’s next. Yesterday was old news, and this story is just breaking. And what better stories are there than the odd, the weird, the sensational? Therefore, it is no surprise that the news jumped on this fringe group.
In the realm of Christianity, talk of Rapture and End Times distracts us from who we are called to be in Christ, in the here and now. CS Lewis uses his demon Screwtape to drive this point home in letter 15 of The Screwtape Letters:
“He [God] does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do. His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him. But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future- haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth- ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by doing so we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other- dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes who end he will not live to see. We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.”
This is the position Camping and other end-time theorists put themselves in when divining supposed Rapture scenarios. Does it not also follow that a notion of impatience is built into this as well? In my Anglican tradition, we are called within the liturgy of the holy Eucharist to proclaim the mystery of faith: “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” We live in anticipation of a new creation initiated by Jesus in his death and resurrection. Wright notes in After You Believe that this is not a waiting room mentality but a “call[ing] to be genuine, image-bearing, God-reflecting human beings. That works out in a million ways, not least in a passion for justice and an eagerness to create and celebrate beauty.” Wright also notes that this anticipation is not one of destruction for “the vision of Revelation 5 is not a vision of the ultimate end…but of the heavenly dimension of the present earthly reality.” What we see in Camping’s world-view, then, is less a joyful anticipation of this reality than a forced demand for some event of finality, a drawing up of borders and walls rather than a participation in the infusion of God’s love into the world. The latter allows God to work as He will, and to join Him in that work, the former is an impatient stomping of a child not getting his way. A metaphysical tantrum, if you will.
Small wonder then that the culture as a whole gets impatient as well. “This is what you say you stand for, but what we see is something completely different.” A valid and truthful observation and the honest vitriol are usually pointed to this hypocrisy.
Our gospel reading today from John redirects the Christian to what should be the focus of his/her faith: Christ himself. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves. Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do.” And what works are we talking about here?
Feed the poor.
We announce the kingdom in these ways.
I get caught up in theoretical arguments and theological debates, mostly as an observer. And this week was no exception. However, as one of my fellow congregants as Ascension Church stated, “You always look for something redemptive out of crazy.”
Situations like Camping’s false predictions force us as Christians to ask “What are we really all about?’ or more to the point “WHO should we really be about?” Because God works through, regardless. And my attention was thankfully redirected back to this.
Someone asked a nun this week on her blog what she thought about all this Rapture talk, with the impending end of the world on Saturday. She gave a prompt, Spirit-inspired reply:
“Ask me about it on Monday.”