Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Rapture: All or Nothing

I mentioned before that "prophetic fiction" of the Left Behind variety features sort-of Christians who didn't go in the Rapture but somehow go from spiritual couch potatoes to spiritual supermen just because the Antichrist is running around.

It wouldn't happen, of course. One of the things we learn from reading about the Exodus and the journey to the Promised Land is how quickly and easily real people go from declaring devotion to God after a miracle to chucking him for an idol. Human nature hasn't changed. Technically, there would be a lot of panic conversions, perhaps, but we're too adaptable for our own good, and the new "believers" would quickly settle down and cool down and even rationalize taking the Mark.

Still, the fact that this nonsense is regularly and vividly portrayed presents the equivalent of telling people they will have a second chance at salvation after they die. It's a damnable and damning doctrine, yet people who would never dream of committing the more obvious heresy still believe in the eschatological second chance.

Now, on one level this is simply another example of the humanism so common in evangelical Christianity: we confuse truth (a spiritual thing) with fact (an intellectual thing) and suppose that running into a Fact (zillions of people disappearing in the Rapture) will have the effect of a revealed Truth (turning people from sin to God).

It doesn't work. Paul said (2 Thes 2:9-12) that the Antichrist would bring a deluding influence that would suck in anyone who has received the love of the truth. (People who have received that love are saved.) It seems to me, then, that anyone who enters the Tribulation rejecting God is not at all likely to change his mind. Those saved during the Tribulation will therefore be those who had not been evangelized and thus had no chance to accept or reject Jesus.

But let's prove that there is no second chance. Look at Matt 25:1-12 (The Wise and Foolish Virgins). The fact that they're virgins means, in the imagery of the time, that they at least have a form of godliness: these are churchgoers. Yet the foolish virgins, who in effect miss the Rapture, get no second chance. They get their spiritual act together (buying the oil) only to find themselves locked out. In fact, they hear the thing you never want to hear from God: "I don't know you" (v. 12). So apparently Rayford Steele and his friends are actually damned. Oops.

But there's another side to this. It is harder to get Left Behind than a lot of pop eschatology wonks say: if you truly are saved, you go. Look at 1 Thes 5, where Paul talks about staying awake, which he contrasts with not paying attention spiritually. Sleepers party; the wakeful godly watch and pray. But then see what he says in v. 10: "[Jesus] died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him." That means that the party dudes, if they are truly saved at all to begin with, go too. (If they didn't, they'd be locked out like the foolish virgins.)

Wow! Party on, Dude!

Not so fast. John gives the consequence: And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming. (1 John 2:28) Apparently it's possible to be ashamed in the midst of the Rapture itself. That's a major buzzkill, and it will change any amount of partying and fun into horror and disgust. Serve God fully; it's easier in the long run.

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