The trick to explaining something complex is to find the right analogy – and keeping half of it in the links. The Christian concept of The Rapture, widely publicized as taking place on this very day, is surely complex. But I think I have found a helpful entry analogy for the denizens of this blog, and in honor of this happening yet again — they announce the Rapture every couple years now — I repost this blog, which first appeared in 2011. In case you didn’t notice, the world did not end then. So this is still useful!
The analogy is Star Wars. Yes! Christianity is like Star Wars! In which an thrilling and unique event (the first movie) some time ago (1977) engendered not only other works (movies, novels) of varying usefulness and importance (comic books, Lego battle cruisers, the Wookkieepedia) until you finally get out into the far fields of fanfic , flamewar, and cultural commentary.
The Rapture is one of those items out at fanfic distance. What you believe about it probably makes no difference at all to anything. The center of Christianity is way further in. That you hear a lot about Rapture, that there are best-sellers on the subject, does not change this. I may be the first person to ever draw the comparison between Santa Claus and “Jar-Jar Binks Must Die” – two memes universally popular in the wider culture, but with only the most tenuous connection to anything core.
So! With the clear understanding that we are sitting in a bar out at the edge of the Empire, discussing the specialty Hutt cocktails on offer at the Mos Eisley Cantina, let’s learn about the Rapture.
Christians hold that everything was created by God. Furthermore, the universe is a finite creation, like a symphony, with a clear beginning and a definite end. Since we haven’t come to the end yet, there is much debate about how that’s going to come down, but we are told that it’s going to end in fire, not ice – a big finale with lots of SFX and a John Williams score, not a petering out to a slow fade.
Star Wars fans distinguish clearly between things that are Word of God (i.e. George Lucas movies) and things that are slightly less canonical, like comic books and Happy Meal toys. Christians rank their materials too, and so for data on the End Times we go first to the Bible. The events that are on the schedule for the End include the return of Jesus, the raising of the dead, the final judgment, the logging off and shutting down of this universe, and the creation of a new heaven and earth, presumably with more RAM and a fatter pipe so that you can stream movies. Somewhere in there may also be the Millennium (a thousand years of peace under Christ’s rule), a Tribulation (unpleasant payback period for nonbelievers) and the Rapture. This last is specifically defined as the ‘catching up’ of all real believers into Heaven, leaving all the rejects behind.
The big problem with the texts is that the events they describe may well be allegorical or figurative. Nor, since they are scarfed up from all over the Bible, are they laid out in any particular order. Many people have tried to impose logic on the End Times material, noting for instance that a Rapture combines nicely with the Tribulation, which can thus take place while True Believers are not on hand to be annoyed by it. On the other hand a Rapture followed by a Millennium might mean that we miss a lot of fun. An eye-glazingly huge number of finely-divided categorizations of these doctrines are named, charted and discussed in Wikipedia, to which I gratefully refer you if you want technical detail.
More sadly, the unclarity of the Final Schedule has allowed a number of scams, wackabirds, and mass hallucinations to take place over the centuries, to great hilarity. I advise the reader to avoid all of them. Remember I said that Christians rank their materials too? Well for us Word of God is, uh huh you guessed it, the word of God. Jesus himself says “No one knows the day or the hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” (Matthew 24:36)
Do you see what this means? The main man, the founder and arbiter of Christianity, is saying even He’s not on the need-to-know roster. Word of God: NOBODY knows the big day. And therefore, anybody who tells you that they know is so full of it their eyes are brown, and should be avoided. (I’m looking at you, Pat Robertson!) All the obsessive discussion of how the details are going to work is blue-sky speculation, on the level of the Jedi training of Luke Skywalker’s grandchildren’s dog.
So, whenever these issues tax your belief or cause you stress, chill. Look, right now, at the lower right-hand corner of your screen. What time is it — is the predicted day of doom over yet? Hey, the world still has not ended! Have a Jabba Jiggle, and let’s enjoy the band.