|A guy on a park bench, pretending to be surprised as he looks at clothes with what appears to be smoke rising out of them. Image text says, "behold, I come quickly". Image source.|
Y’all. If you grew up in American evangelical culture, you MUST read this post by the Slacktivist (Fred Clark): Pray that you will be among those ‘left behind’.
So. As it turns out, in Matthew 24 when Jesus says, “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left,” “taken” means they died in some terrible disaster. “Left” means they survived. “Taken” is bad. “Left” is good.
Clark says this:
There’s nothing ambiguous at all about this passage as written. Getting taken, or robbed, or swept away is Bad. Being left — left alone and left behind — is Good.
Absolutely nothing in the text itself suggests reading it the other way around. That reading — Norman’s interpretation, and Hal Lindsey’s and Tim LaHaye’s and John Hagee’s and Rafael Cruz’s — would never occur to anyone approaching this text unless that person were already, prior to reading it, committed to the Rapture mythology of PMD “Bible prophecy” folklore. Only someone like Irene Steele, caught up in the fantasy of “Jesus coming back to get us before we die,” could come away from this text thinking that getting swept away was something desirable and that getting left behind was something grim.
This is one of the two cornerstone biblical passages cited as teaching the “Rapture,” but as you can see, it teaches nothing of the sort. You can’t read the idea of the Rapture out of this text, you can only try to read the Rapture into it. You simply cannot go to Matthew 24 and find there any credible support for the idea that Christians should wait and long and pray for the day when they get swept away in the flood, just like all those favored with destruction and death in the days of Noah.
And my mind is blown.
I remember one time at a bible study in college, when we studied the parallel passage in Mark, and the bible study leader told us, “For this passage, we can’t really figure out the meaning just by discussing it like usual, I have to tell you about some history. [talks about the destruction of the temple in AD 70]” Which was really good. For some parts. But somehow I never extended that line of interpretation to the “one will be taken and the other left” bit; I never imagined that it means that the taken one DIED and that’s BAD.
(Actually, at this point we could talk about death and heaven and things like that. If dying means you go to heaven, then isn’t death actually good? But if we all believed that, we would totally kill ourselves. So no, the vast majority of people do not literally believe that life after death is WAY BETTER than life now. [Or they believe in some technicality like 'if you kill yourself you don't go to heaven.'] But… I mean, Christianity has to include something about hope after death, right? After death should be something good enough that we can have a little bit of optimism when someone dies, but not so good that we actually think it would be a good idea to kill ourselves/other people. So. Hmm. I mean personally I believe the whole world will be resurrected, which is a much more optimistic belief than this balancing act I seem to be requiring here. Hmm.)
So I reread all of Matthew 24, and there are some other bits that very much say to me “this is CLEARLY about the end of the world and the rapture.” Like “…and then the end will come” and “[the Son of Man] will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” But what if it’s not the end of the world, but the end of life as we know it (and then after that, we adapt and life goes on)? What if it’s not gathering good Christians and taking them directly to heaven, but survivors of the disaster coming together and becoming stronger as they help each other survive?
Yeah. As I’ve said before, people coming out of evangelicalism need somebody to teach us how to read the bible all over again.