This is the Way The World Ends

May 26th, 2011 – by Laura Lehman Amstutz

Probably most of us weren’t surprised when the world didn’t end on May 21 at 6 p.m. I watched the Rapture chatter prior to Saturday with bemusement. Facebook featured everything from jokes about people whose spouses hadn’t been seen in a while, to the “post-Rapture looting” event scheduled for an hour later, to the slightly more serious post from one friend who said, “I’m amazed at all the people who are making fun of the May 21 rapture who believe the Rapture actually will happen someday.”

I have to admit, I have my own doubts about the Rapture ever happening. I am tired of it being used as a plot device for salvation narratives. Films and books like “Left Behind” and “Thief in the Night” are overused. Fear as a basis for salvation is just not appealing.

One the other hand, maybe it’s the idea of judgment that really gives me pause. I am significantly less cynical about world-wide apocalyptic destruction than I am about the Rapture. Eschatology deals specifically with divine judgment and the destruction of evil. An apocalyptic scenario, however, does not assume God-driven action, but sees it caused by humanity or the natural world. Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, wars, greed for oil and environmental crises seem close at hand. Most of us don’t equate any of these things with the judgment of God. As my friend Amy (who wrote her dissertation on the rhetoric of dystopias and post-apocalyptic literature) says, we can rationalize the end of the world much easier than we can rationalize God’s judgment of the world. Our technological culture does not like things we can’t rationalize.

But it does make me wonder – how do we recognize God’s judgment? Perhaps the Rapture is an obvious sign of God’s action, which may be why people like Harold Camping hold on to it so tightly. But is that any worse than what I do, which is to deny God’s judgment of the world? Is my own ambiguity about God’s ability and willingness to judge humanity any less limiting than the conviction that the Rapture will happen?

My tendency to imagine a human or environmental apocalypse and yet deny divine judgment means that my image of God is limited to those “nice” qualities I like about God– love, peace, etc. And yet, that is not the entire biblical witness of God’s existence. Belief in the Rapture and in God’s ultimate power to judge humanity, stretches my image of God beyond my rational box. Perhaps that is the real test of my faith and understanding of salvation. Why should not an all-encompassing God include the ability to destroy evil in the world?

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