It really is easier to read a novel- or a series of novels – about the Rapture, than it is to read a critical history of Rapture theology. Just as it is easier to “believe” in Creationism than it is to study and understand Evolution. Just as it is easier to maintain a fatalistic view of every single thing that happens (“God did it!”) than it is to face the random nature of many (most?) human and physical events, or to accept an iota of personal responsibility when things go wrong.
Faith has become a short cut around thinking. The words “I believe” have come to mean that whatever pronouncement follows those words is off-limits in terms of criticism. (Although you are allowed, encouraged even, to verbally punctuate such statements with a hearty “Amen!”)
But is being faithful, toward anything, a legitimate excuse for not thinking? Is thinking about faith a forbidden activity? Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t like dead ends in thought, where questions are no longer welcomed, because then the only thing left to do is to build a fort and be defensive about that arrived-at place of thinking. And that’s also where Inquisitions and Jihads are conceived.
The theology of the rapture is relatively recent, beginning in the early 19th Century. It was an odd interpretation of scripture which found wide acceptance in the reactionary intellectual atmosphere of the time. Times were, in 19th century Great Britain (where the rapture story began), a’changing. Pastoral countrysides were seeing, with greater and greater frequency, the smokestacks of nearby cities rising in ugly industrial salute to the Coal and Iron being burned and formed in a revolution of manufacturing. Urban areas were growing, along with the attendant urban problems of bad housing, crime, and alcoholism. The rich grew richer as the poor grew poorer. As Charles Dickens wrote of what was happening, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Some people were feeling left out, and powerless, and in need of a “way out.”
And the Rapture is the ultimate Way Out! Every year for the past two centuries someone, somewhere has claimed that this is the year: This is the year that the Lord returns for his own! It’s an appealing hope for many people: it costs nothing, it could happen any moment, and it makes those who know they’re ‘going’ better than those who don’t know they’re not going!
The popularity of the Rapture grows wherever people feel out of control. It gives people who believe they will not be left behind, a sense of power- perhaps even, a sense of superiority, over those who will not make the cut. As the doctrine’s popularity has grown, it has become more complex. Schools of thinking have grown about when the rapture will occur in relation to perceived timetables they are able to find in the books of Daniel and Revelation. On-line resources are available for wills to be read and messages to be sent to relatives and friends who are left here after the rapture to face the horrors of Armageddon, or not.
When Jesus said, on the cross, “It is finished,” little did he know that 1800 years later the rest of the story would be uncovered. Nor did he know it would all be over in 1992, or not.