The Rapture: An Orthodox Understanding (Infographic)

Fact #1: I grew up believing in the Rapture.

Fact #2: I no longer believe in the Rapture. Really, I don’t.

Fact #3: When I walk into a mysteriously empty room or a quiet home, my first (subconscious) instinct is still to check the floor for heaps of clothes and other telltale signs that people have been raptured. Because old habits die hard. Also because the Left Behind books were my best friends for a while in high school.

Now that I’ve gone and mortified myself in front of the entire blogosphere, let me share something less self-revealing 🙂

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to read the new and revised edition of Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick’s Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy. I love the subtitle: “Finding the Way to Christ in a Complicated Religious Landscape.” And I love that the book lives up to the subtitle, too.

The Rapture has always been one of those things that complicates my own personal religious landscape–the landscape of my life, looking back, and the religious landscape I share with friends and family.

Years ago, realizing I did not actually believe in the Rapture anymore was the beginning of the end for me. The end of the fundamentalist-leaning Christianity I had grown up with and clung to in college. At the time, I could not have said why the Rapture and the strange apocalyptic brew I was surrounded by felt wrong to me, but it did.

And it was also the beginning, the beginning of a long journey–toward Orthodoxy, yes, but even more than that toward a more integrative, defragmented, whole worldview that made it possible for me to embrace Orthodoxy in the first place.

I wish I could have told my younger, confused, Rapture-questioning self that there was a more healing way through faith than fire and brimstone. I would have told her to look for Christ, to look for His Church. And perhaps to spend less time looking for heaps of left-behind clothes.

I would have showed her this infographic, too, but infographics weren’t invented back then so I’m showing it to all of you instead. 🙂

 

15 comments:

  1. Respecting the fact that you have a small space to discuss this, you have presented this subject without addressing more than the pop psychology version. You have neglected the deeper passages which, like the Messiah as a man in the OT, are not explicitly and simply stated but which run throughout. As my deacon in catechism says, heresies do not gain traction because they are wrong but because they sound right. My addendum to that principle is that they sound right because they start with a truth and then distort it. Certainly I agree with you that the version which you describe is heretical, but the truth of the principle of the protection of God’s people from coming judgement runs throughout the entire Bible, even from Noah to Isaiah to the Apostle John. I grant that I am new to Orthodoxy, having been chrismated this past Palm Sunday, and long in the Protestant faith, though having longed my whole life for the womb that is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. I humbly respond and invite you to a greater dialogue on this.

    1. Hi Michael! Thank you for your perceptive and nuanced comment! Admittedly, an infographic doesn’t offer the space and breadth to explore ideas in as nuanced as a way that some readers might find more satisfying. I agree that “dispelling” ideas of the Rapture is more complicated because the doctrine draws on themes and motifs you see throughout salvific history. I also agree with your deacon’s wise words about how lies/ heresies start with a grain of truth and even appear to be true or at least true sounding. I did want to point out, though, that I didn’t speak of Rapture belief as a heresy–I said only that it was problematic from an Orthodox perspective. (I did quote from Fr. Steven Kostoff, whose larger article is called “The Heresy of the Rapture,” perhaps that is what you saw.) For me, the term heresy is not only a theologically but also historically specific term. I don’t use the “H” word except in regards to doctrines the Church has historically deemed heretical, through ecumenical councils, canons, and/or other documents. Examples: gnosticism, donatism, etc. That is a small matter but I just wanted to point that out for clarity 🙂

      In regards to notion of the Rapture being resonant because of certain themes in Scripture… This is certainly true–or at least, you can find this theme based on certain, specific readings of the Bible. But in any case, I am not trained in hermeneutics but rather history (primarily) and to a lesser degree theology. I try to stay away from interpreting Scripture too much and leave it to the experts 🙂 But while I’d rather not speak to the deeper layers of Scripture, I can speak to the cultural, perceptual and historical layers that make Rapture belief compelling and convincing to folks. I tried to hint at some of this when I mentioned the well of existential tendencies Rapturism draws from: futurism, escapism, separatism. In my opinion, these things actually inform our interpretation of Scripture because they signify part of our worldview. We make sense of the world/ time/ history/ reality through the lens of escapism for example, and then begin to see the themes of Scripture through those eyes. People will not change their interpretation of Scripture or belief in a particular doctrine until and unless their worldview offers them the conceptual space to do so. That was my way of bringing some nuance into a short and truncated medium of the infographic.

      I hope that helps give you an idea of my thinking/ intention/ editorial choices behind this little infographic, ha ha 🙂 I’d love to hear your thoughts as I’m thinking of making eschatology or apocalypticism in general one of my next writing projects–not sure the angle/ scope yet, but it’s a topic I’m drawn to. So glad to hear about your chrismation, I hope that your journey always continues.

      1. Nicole, thank you for that reply! I do appreciate the added color to your view of the subject. I have been using as a short catechism your ‘futurism, escapism, separatism’ model to focus my thoughts on the subject. On the matter of eschatology, I am also deeply drawn to the discussion of the completion of God’s revealing. In our times, there are so many things happening, in apparent fulfillment of scriptural prophecy and in unprecedented, ‘stumbling stone’ fashion to what has become the Orthodox paradigm, i.e. theology and practice which is wholly bound in the present. If there is one thing that seems to have fallen into disfavor in the practice of Orthodoxy, it does seem to be that of unfulfilled prophetic scripture. Naturally, after 2,000 years of things not happening as promised according to a literal reading, the mind begins to content itself with allegory and other non-literalist methods of finding purpose and meaning. I have noted, too, a particular bent toward avoiding the appearance of giving Protestant theological ruminations any validity whatsoever: “if it sounds like Protestantism, it must not be Orthodox truth.” I suspect that this stems from the stormy divide between the two, where the waters don’t mix well, such that on the Orthodox side, where converts who are fleeing from the Reformation paradigm of the literal view of prophetic scripture, the future-telling kind, and Orthodox, who are overwhelming engaged only in the paradigm of the present, bear the stamp of a form of PTSD in the former and absurdity in the latter. Figuratism has become a canned response, where Orthodoxy has so much power to address the roots of the needs which draw people to such fear-driven interpretations of the Rapture concept, the concept of a millenial, worldwide Jewish kingdom with Christ at its head, the impact of 6-day creationism and others. In a general discussion of eschatology, I believe that all of these subjects, and more, would be addressed, and I would certainly love to see a more in-depth discussion about today’s events, even as Christ told us to watch for certain signs of The End of the age and declared as another sign that, “The gospel will be preached in all the world, and then the end will come.” I would love to see the Orthodox church pick up that mantle so that those who are bound up in fear and the domination of the mind as the path to God would have a chance to see a comprehensive alternative to the Cliff Notes version of Christianity that I, without malice, see as my origination in the knowledge of the Creator God.

        1. Hi again, Michael–this gives me a lot to think about! I’ll definitely keep some of these thoughts under consideration in future projects. Have a blessed Apostles’ Fast!

  2. One of he things that attracted me to Orthodoxy was Fr. Tom Hopko’s talks on the book of Revelation. My sister and her husband were Orthodox and gave me a set of the copied, dubbed and redubbed tapes and I listened to them over and over. They were the first thing I’d ever heard that made a lick of sense about Revelation and it wasn’t necessarily all about “End Times”. I did a lot more reading (on a lot more than Revelation) and began visiting my local Orthodox church and converted some years later. If you ever get a chance to hear any of the Fr. Tom cd’s (because they are all on cd now instead of poorly dubbed cassette tapes), do so.

    1. Hi Susan! Thanks for the recommendation. I’m not sure if this is what you are referring to but there are a series of talks by Fr. Hopko on the Revelation of St. John available as a podcast from ancient faith. Here is the first part: https://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/hopko_lectures/a_walk_through_the_apocalypse_part_1

      I’ve listened to most of these and agree–they are beneficial and thorough, very much in the wonderful style of Fr. Hopko 🙂

  3. I think one of the biggest pastoral issues with Rapture theology is that it is devoid of suffering so leaves Christians who believe it ill prepared when suffering comes. Christ said “in this world you will heave trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world” and likewise “Know that if they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also”, but Rapture theology teaches that Christians will be whisked away before the trials and suffering come. The Orthodox know better than any other Christians what it means to suffer for Christ, and the redemptive and transformative nature of suffering. Rapture theology leaves its followers without any theology of suffering or its therapeutic and sanctifying ability. Ironically I believe that if the levels of persecution that the Russian Church faced under communism happened in the West, a great number of the Christians would indeed disappear but to apostasy, because the deep roots of faith that keep one anchored through suffering are not there, at least in congregations where the Rapture is taught. I wonder if such a theology would have ever developed in an environment where there was persecution rather than unheard-of levels of religious liberty?

    1. It’s funny you should bring up persecution and suffering, because I had kind of a different take. Perhaps I’m just looking at the ramifications of Rapture theology from a different angle…

      Along with sidestepping the reality of true, Christian suffering (perhaps we could call this “godly” suffering), Rapture theology simultaneously seems to seek aout another, stranger kind of suffering. Almost a suffering complex (“Look at us! We’re suffering!”). At least that was my experience. There was always the sense that while we may not have to endure the “Great Tribulation,” we were nonetheless living amid the “birthpangs” and “groanings” portion of global history–and that was somehow bad enough. Rapture beliefs I think are also often connected to a persecution mentality–the perception that we are being persecuted, and even that we have it worse off than anyone else in our society. I don’t doubt that it is not “easy” or “simple” to be a Christian in contemporary North American culture but to identify this as “persecution” is usually… misguided at best. All of this “sham suffering” (that’s what I call it) acts as smoke and takes people’s vigilance off the actual arenas of suffering they are in or may be called to. In traditional Christian understanding, suffering always comes out of love and humility–that is the model of suffering we are given from Christ. To love is to suffer, it is to empty oneself. And to suffer is to love–it is not to get a badge of honor or something.

      I agree with you and am haunted by the question of what would happen if there were actual persecution in our society. I am haunted by how I myself would respond. I may not believe in the Rapture any more–I may now have a much more robust theology of suffering, thanks to the traditions of the Church I have been blessed be received by–but there are certainly other ways I can shirk off suffering or turn away. Lord have mercy!

      1. I think these are two sides of the same coin. Rapture theology encourages an infantile approach towards faith generally and persecution specifically. On one hand believers have a martyr complex seeing themselves as being persecuted for relatively minor trials such as atheist comedians making jokes about Christianity. On the other hand, they are blind to real persecution going on because their focus is so taken up with their own trials. If genuine persecution arrived, I think there would be an exodus sadly – God grant mercy if that day comes – because the infantile faith produced by Rapture theology does not prepare one to face persecution: the expectation is that true believer will be snatched away and saved from the Tribulation. Rapture theology produces insecure and paranoid Christians

  4. I once had a dream that the rapture happened and I got left behind, not because I wasn’t “saved”, but because I didn’t believe in the rapture! As silly as it might sound, that dream made me reconsider if maybe the rapture theorists were right… because getting left behind sucks. I never did fully embrace the rapture, it was more of a go along to get along at my Baptist church.

    On a more serious note, amillennialism never made sense to me until I started to embrace the historic understanding of the sacrements. Reading through For The Life Of The World last month it finally dawned on me how the amillennial view actually makes a lot of sense.

    1. I think many of us have had left behind dreams, ha ha. Your dream makes perfect sense to me because in some circles, whether or not you believe in the Rapture is a kind of dividing line or shiboleth–an in-group, out-group divider.

      I actually never thought much about millennialism one way or the other until I came to Orthodoxy, or shortly before that when I really began questioning everything. I didn’t even know there was an alternative to pre/post-millennialism. But amillennialism now just seems … not only more ‘Orthodox’ but also plain and simply more sane. A more sacramental reading of the times somehow. Pre-/ post-millennialism both come out of this incredibly (and destructively) literal, fundamentalist-theological way of reading scripture (not to mention reality) that now turns my stomach!

      How did you like For the Life of the World in general? It’s one of those books you can read again and again in different seasons of life and faith, and it will still speak.

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