Thursday, May 15, 2008

In Case of Rapture

For Christmas, Glen gave me a copy of Left Behind, the first in a 12-volume series of novels about "the earth's last days" by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Now that my course is winding down, I've finally gotten around to reading it.

The novel is, of course, fiction. Though it is based on Tim LaHaye's understanding of the future history of the earth based on his reading of the Bible -- a reading shared by millions of Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians. In other words, in the novels LaHaye sought to write a future history which, if accurate in none of its particulars, would be accurate in its overall projections. Bible-believing Christians throughout the world expect a literal rapture, followed by a literal rise of the Anti-Christ, a literal formation of one world government and one world religion, and a literal tribulation of the Saints who are "left behind."

I've never heard much among Latter-day Saints about the rapture. The proof texts used to support this Fundamentalist doctrine are almost all read quite differently by Latter-day Saints. We do believe something very special will happen to those faithful who are present on the earth at the time of Christ's Second Coming; I remember hearing my dad talk about being transfigured "in the twinkling of an eye." But not much talk about flying naked through the air to meet Jesus.

I can't say I hate LaHaye's book. In fact, I'd even say I like it. A lot. I'm not a big fan of using "scare tactics" to encourage people to convert. I just don't believe God works that way. In my personal experience God has not worked that way. My life has been transformed by gratitude for Christ's atonement, not by fear of God's judgment. My abhorrence for sin has grown out of an appreciation of the harm I have done myself and others because of it, not out of any sense of legalism or prudery. Legalism, fear and coercion are part of Satan's dossier, not God's.

I also have a tendency to see the world today very much under the rule of the Anti-Christ. Think we don't already have one world currency? Think we're not already ruled by violence? Have you been watching the news lately? Our obligation to resist that violence and evil is in effect now.

LaHaye's vision of the future is a tad arrogant in its assumptions about who will be saved and who will not. And perhaps also a tad arrogant in its attempt to define with more precision than scripture probably allows, an event which Christ told us was hidden even from the angels of Heaven and known only to the Father.

But what I like about the book is LaHaye's notion that now is the time to prepare for Christ's coming. Now is the time to repent. Now is the time to get real with God. And to the extent the book has prodded me to stay honest in the path, I am grateful. I may even read volume 2.

Don't get me wrong. LaHaye's God is not a God lacking in grace, mercy, or forgiveness. But he is a God limited by LaHaye's particular notions of what God has planned for us. I think it is more "doctrinally correct" to encourage a sacred openness to what will unfold, to cultivate a preparedness and a dependence on God that will enable us to respond to whatever the future brings, however God chooses to wrap up this chapter of human destiny and usher in the new.

But on the other hand, I don't think it can hurt to ask the question, What would you do if...? How would you respond?


Maraiya said...

I have read almost the entire series (I got a little bored toward the end) but what really surprised me as I read the books were all the details that I never took in reading Revelation. I don't know if the signs and happenings will be as literal as LaHaye wrote them to be, but it was interesting that every time I balked at some of his events, I would open my scriptures and see a verse that supported what he wrote: beheadings, earthquakes, weird bugs that cry Apollon. Again, not sure if it will all be that literal, but it was an interesting perspective to read.

And as far as I've been able to research, the Mormon church doesn't preach the "rapture." We do believe the saints will be caught up to Jesus but I think it's after a lot of this has happened and not "pre-tribulation."

J G-W said...

One of the biggest questions was, will Jesus arrive before or after the millennium? (Personally, I lean toward premillennialism; I think LDS revelation supports that. But not so decidedly as to prevent some LDS leaders from taking a distinctly postmillennialist tack.)

Christians have always been uncertain about the literalism of scriptural prophecy in relation to Christ's second coming. What they have never doubted (and what I do not doubt) is that Christ is coming. I am counting on it and praying for it.

So much in the Book of Revelation is so self-evidently allegorical, I'm not sure how you go about reading it as future history. I think of it more as a kind of Liahona: you gaze into it in order to get a sense of how you need to orient yourself here and now, and let the rest unfold as God unfolds it. I love the book of Revelation (and Ezekiel, and Daniel, and the Gnostic Apocalyptic literature which sheds much very interesting light on Revelation). I get so much out of it for the here and now, that continues to be my focus in reading it.

-L- said...

"I can't say I hated LaHaye's book."

I can! :-)

J G-W said...

-L- I read Left Behind as allegory. It makes it much more interesting.