In case you didn’t know, this weekend will see a new version of Left Behind make its way into theatres … and Christians are likely to take a poor quality movie and lift it to a respectable showing ensuring Hollywood continues to make money off films claiming to be “faith-based” (whatever that means).
But, enough about that, I decided that instead of bashing a movie I will likely never see (to go along with the books I have never read beyond the synopsis), I would try to start some dialogue about what this movie purports to be about — the end times.
The popular, and seemingly generally accepted, opinion about what a “Christian” view of the end times looks like is quite similar to what we see and read in Left Behind (perhaps not exactly, but in a grand view). The end times will essentially play out like a literal reading of Revelation complete with an antichrist, Armageddon and the rapture (not necessarily in that order, because the order of these things seems to be more debated than whether or not these things will actually happen or not).
There are many, many reasons I disagree with this popular view entirely, but I don’t want to get too technical by exhausting all the reasons why, and instead focus on three main reasons I take issue with it — and perhaps will stir up discussion as well:
Armageddon vs. Reconciliation
The first reason I cannot bring myself to believe in a rapture and subsequent destruction of creation is because I feel it goes completely against the movement of scripture. From Genesis through the New Testament we see a beautiful picture of God’s work within the world. His desire to redeem and reconcile, his “get-your-hands-dirty” approach to being “God with us” (think: incarnation), and his ever-expanding circle of who this promise of reconciliation and grace is to be extended to.
While I understand how people can read certain biblical statements in certain interpretive ways and arrive at a rapture/Armageddon viewpoint, I have a very hard time being able to reconcile this with the grand-sweep of scripture. For me this means I need to reevaluate how I interpret these specific biblical statements in order that they will better align with the God who claims to want to reconcile all of creation unto himself. I don’t see a major theme of God hating creation and wanting it destroyed in a fire; I see a God who wants to redeem, reconcile and restore.
And, thankfully, the church (universal) has provided us with multiple ways to interpret and understand the end times … and this newest, popular viewpoint, in my humble opinion, just can’t stand the test of living up to the grand narrative of God found in our bible.
The Empire [Jesus] Strikes Back
Reason number two is what I call the Star Wars problem. In the four Gospels, we have a fairly consistent picture of Jesus. He tells the crowds that “blessed are the peacemakers”. He spends all of his time with persecuted people, people who are sick, and those under the thumb of the empire.
Thematically, the story of Israel is one of God taking the side of the underdog. He rescues them from an empire and then, when they are in power, tells them consistently that they will be evaluated based on how they treat the less fortunate within their kingdom (and don’t forget the alien among you).
Elsewhere, we are told God is near to the brokenhearted amongst other less than well-off people.
Finally, Jesus tells his disciples not to pick up the sword because if you try to use force/might/violence to accomplish your goals, you will end up dying by the same fashion. He takes this as far as it possibly can go and allows himself to be crucified at the hands of people he could have easily overcome (remember he said he could have easily called for a unit of angel warriors to get himself off the cross?).
And it is this self-sacrifice that is the cornerstone of our faith.
The cross is the symbol of God’s victory over sin and death.
We are accustomed to saying at the cross the victory was won —
There is nothing else that needs to be done —
Christ has won!
Period. Full stop.
And, yet, this popular view of the end times is like the Empire Strikes Back. It’s like God saying, “You know all that stuff I said about self-sacrifice, grace, love and compassion? Well, that was for then, this is now. Now’s the time I get my revenge.”
It seems the cross wasn’t the victory we thought it was because now God seems to need to fight again …
What was the point of the cross again? I thought Jesus said “it is finished”!
It seems to me the concept of the persecuted victim (cross) coming back as a hero (resurrection) and getting his revenge (Armageddon) makes sense according to the way we see the world, but it seems to run counter to how Jesus sees the world.
The final reason I’ll put out there today is the fire escape theory.
The popular conception of the rapture acts like a fire escape — things are about to go to “hell in a handbasket”, and the people of God — the ones he has placed on earth to help reconcile and restore — are zipped off to paradise while the world is left to burn.
Now, to me, that sounds opposite to what we are asked to do as representatives of God’s kingdom. It seems to me we are called to follow Jesus’s example and get our hands dirty, to join people in their pain and suffering, and to plead for God’s mercy to restore his creation as he has promised he would do (much like Moses argued with God reminding him that Israel was his people and what would the nations say if he were to destroy them and start over).
Now, if that is what our calling is, to have us removed from the world in its “time of greatest need” would seem a bit against the flow of this calling.
This is just a very “big picture” view of why I have begun looking at alternative ways of reading the “end times” narratives found in our bible. There is a long history of varied interpretations about the “last days” (with our modern popular theology actually fairly new to the scene) and all are faithful to the scriptures we have.
In the end (haha), it’s important to realize whenever we discuss eschatology (study of last things), we are walking blindly. Nobody has experienced the end of all things and therefore nobody can speak with certainty.
This is humbling, mysterious, and freeing.
Humbling because I could be wrong. Mysterious because it is not something I can ever hope to get a handle on. And freeing because I do not have to try to reconcile two seemingly conflicting viewpoints of God found in the bible — instead I can take another look at the bible and try to read and understand what it says rather than simply what Christian culture has claimed it says.
Thoughts and opinions? I don’t expect everyone to agree with my assessment, and would love to hear why you believe what you do about where things are headed?