Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shea on the Rapture, Cultural Assumptions, and Jedi Wisdom

Mark Shea writes:
As we begin Advent, the Church confronts us with Jesus' teaching about the Second Coming. His disturbing warning is well-known in our post-Protestant culture:
As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they did not know until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of man. Then two men will be in the field; one is taken and one is left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one is taken and one is left. Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Mt 24:37-42)
It's a text known not only to every reader of Tim LaHaye's and Jerry Jenkins's Left Behind series, but to millions of other people, Catholic, Protestant, and unbeliever. And the way in which it is commonly read, not only by Evangelicals but even by many Catholics, is that those who are "taken" are the blessed, while those who are left are accursed or otherwise abandoned to their fate by the Lord of the Harvest. I have even heard sermons from Catholic pulpits that take this for granted.
Only, here's the thing: As Scripture scholar Michael Barber points out, this is exactly backward from the Old Testament backdrop to which Jesus Himself is pointing.
Now, according to the standard rapturist interpretation, when Jesus says, "one is taken and one is left," he is teaching that the righteous one will be "raptured" while the wicked, unbelieving heathens will be "left behind."
The problem with this view however is that it seems to contradict what Jesus is actually saying. The larger context of the passage is an analogy: Jesus is describing the time of the coming of the Son of man in terms of the flood judgment.
What is often missed is this: according to Jesus, in the days of Noah it was the wicked who were "swept away" (Matt 24:39). In other words, in the days of Noah, the wicked were the ones taken
Hence, it would seem that in Jesus' analogy, it is desirable to be among those left behind -- i.e., those not swept away as the wicked were in the days of Noah. A careful reading then would suggest that the righteous are those who are left behind, not those taken.
 I realize that the view that Jesus here links salvation with those being "taken" is very much entrenched, no doubt in part due to the influence of the rapture interpretation. Yet such a reading does not seem to flow naturally from the text. In fact, such a reading in fact reverses the imagery so that the days of the Son of man are unlike the days of Noah, contrary to what Jesus himself seems to teach.
So much for worrying about being "left behind."
In other words, appealing to this passage as a basis for some Rapture is rather like appealing to Thomas Jefferson as a witness to the glories of monarchy. It's the opposite of what Jesus is saying.

Does Barber mean to suggest that those who read it as a reference to the Rapture are deliberately deceptive? I doubt that. Certainly, Catholics I've known who have read it to mean the saved will be taken have no intent to deceive. In fact, the people I have heard reading the passage this way actually reject Rapture theology. But by a sort of mental habit, they have nonetheless gone on reading the passage in a sense contrary to what the words themselves actually import. Why?
To answer that, let us consult with noted theologian Qui-Gonn Jinn.
As a general rule, I discourage people from getting their theology from Star Wars because, well, it's a dumb thing to do. However, understood rightly, there is a bit of Jedi wisdom to be had here and there -- rather as fortune cookies sometimes make a good call by dumb luck. For instance, consider Qui-Gonn Jinn's remark to Anakin Skywalker, "Your focus determines your reality."
That statement is lunacy if you take it to mean, "Things are only as we think them." Such insanity pervades every crank solipsistic philosophy on earth, from the people who tell you that your leg is only broken because you believe it to be, to the lunatics who believe that "will power" is the sovereign solvent for walking through brick walls.
On the other hand, Qui-Gonn's remark can also be understood to mean that we tend to interpret (and filter) facts to fit our predetermined ideas. That's just common sense -- and it's why we often miss facts that are staring us in the face. It's a principle every magician relies on in misdirecting our focus to one thing as he does something else to create the illusion. Indeed, properly understood, "your focus determines your reality" is a statement about the power of the human mind, not to create reality, but to radically misunderstand it.
Read the rest here.


  1. Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Back in the early 70s there was a similar huge preoccupation with the rapture being immanent, thanks in large part to Hal Lindsey's books. According to Lindsey it was supposed to happen about 1984. Well, we see how right he was. His books sold. & they did make a lot of sense if you didn't know better. & most Catholics didn't.
    IMHO the reason that a lot of us in the 70s & even up to today buy into it is because talking about the 4 last things (death, judgement, heaven, hell) was negelected from the late 60s till about the late 90s. & the book of Revelation even more so for a longer period.
    The idea of a Rapture has only been arround since the late 1700s early 1800s & really didn't exist as a concept like in the LaHaye books until 1827 as a part of Darby's dispensationalism theology.
    Fortunately there is finally some good teaching about Revelation, the end times etc out there again. For example, Scott Hahn's book, The Lamb's Supper, is a good key to understanding Revelation.
    End times mania has been arround from the start & will exist in some form or another until Jesus does return. The Catholic Church has made some pronouncements, but has left some things still open for debate. But it probably won't play out like LaHaye describes it.

    As for the "days of Noah: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0KHt8xrQkk

  2. For people who claim to rely solely on the Bible, Protestants sure make up a lot of doctrines.