Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Rapture

In 1 Thessalonians Chapter 4, St. Paul talks about the end of time, when Christ will come again to the earth.  First those who have died, St. Paul says, will be physically raised from the dead; and then those who remain, who have not yet physically died, will be physically caught up into the clouds with Christ to remain with Him forever.  This being caught up is often referred to as the Rapture.  However there is another kind of rapture I want to talk about.  A very common kind of rapture, one that we all experience, a rapture that makes it difficult for us to pay attention to God in our heart, a rapture that does not allow us to prepare for the Rapture.  What I am talking about is the rapture, or the being caught up in and by, the busyness (or the business) of life.

In Orthodox Christian eschatology (study of the End Things), not much play is given to the Rapture, certainly not when compared to how significant a role the Rapture plays in many Protestant eschatological scenarios.  When compared to some others, Orthodox Christians, on the whole, are much less concerned about the details of how the world will end and much more concerned about the experience of judgement that will take place when every single person must stand before the Judgement Seat of God and give an account for his or her life.  It is the preparation for this Judgement, or this giving account, that most Orthodox spirituality focuses on.  And so for most Orthodox Christians, the when and the where and the how of eschatology is of very little significance.  After all, it is the actual meeting with the King that one needs to be prepared for, not whether you will be walking or escorted there in a coach and four.  

Or to put a finer point on it, it does not much matter whether I will come to stand before Christ tomorrow or fifty years from tomorrow (and really, in the scope of eternity the difference is microscopic).  It does not much matter whether the End comes next Tuesday and we who remain are raptured out of this world, or if we are hit by a truck, die of a heart attack, or slowly wither away with dementia in a convalescent hospital somewhere.  How we get there is of almost no importance.  Who we are when we get there is of great importance.  And who we will be then depends not at all on how or when we get there, but in what we are caught up in, or enraptured by, now.  That determines who we are and who we will become.

Certainly we all have to work.  We all have jobs to do—obediences that involve caring for mundane tasks so that we can eat and be clothed and live in a warm and dry dwelling.  Doing work and being busy is a good thing.  Work, since the Fall of mankind, has been an essential part of our salvation.  And even before the Fall, caring for the Garden and tending the animals there was part of Adam and Eve’s very communion with God.  Work is very important.  The father of all hermits and the first monk, Anthony the Great, was instructed by God Himself that prayer alone was not enough.  He was taught that he must pray for a while, and then work for a while, then pray for a while and work for a while again.  

Work in this age does not hinder our preparation for the Age to to Come; on the contrary, it is an aid.  What does hinder our preparation for the Age to Come has to do with where our heart and attention lie.  What enraptures us?  In what are we caught up?  That determines to a large degree who we are becoming, and what we will have to say on the last day—And I mean that in both senses: what we will have (or possess) to say, and what we will have to (as in be required to) say.

It seems that everything in our culture is teaching us to live for today, to be caught up in or be enraptured by what we are feeling, doing, or desiring right now.  Seize the day, we are told, means to do what you want today giving no care for tomorrow, which is almost exactly opposite the original meaning of of carpe diem, which meant to seize today to prepare for tomorrow.  And this is exactly what Christ in many of His parables teach us that life is all about: preparing for tomorrow, for the ultimate Tomorrow.

It is said that the only two things that are certain in life are death and taxes.  But even taxes change (they don’t go away, they just change).  But death does not change, ever.  Death is that certain.  And just as it is foolish not to prepare for a upcoming test at school or not to pay your taxes or not to change the oil in your car (it will break down if you don’t take care of it), so it is foolish to be enraptured by things that have no eternal value, to be caught up in things that make you into someone you don’t want to be.  On the Last Day, sins will be forgiven—that’s not what we have to prepare for.  Christ has taken away our sins.  But here is the question we all must ponder: who will I be?  Who am I becoming?  Who is this one who experiences forgiveness?  Actually, forgiveness can be a very frightful thing.

Consider, for example, a person who loves to smoke pot.  I have an acquaintance, a street person who would rather smoke pot than just about anything else.  In fact, that’s why he’s a street person.  I have been directly involved with attempts to get him into housing or programs that will help him; and every time, he is the one who walks away.  Why?  Because they won’t let him smoke pot while he is in the program or while he is living in a friend’s house.  This is Canada, British Columbia even.  He’s forgiven.  No one holds pot smoking against him in any legal sense—even though it is still technically illegal.  But he does’t care about that.  He doesn’t want forgiveness.  He wants to keep smoking pot whenever and wherever he wants.  And he is willing to live on the street, in the cold, in the rain, in the snow, to do so.  He is enraptured with smoking pot.  

And just like my street buddy who prefers smoking pot on the street to a secure, dry, housing and job training program, so too I think many of us will have quite a shock when we stand before God on the Last Day.  Yes, our sins are forgiven.  But who have we become?  Who will we be when we stand before God on that Day?  What have we become enraptured with that we will not be allowed to bring with us into Heaven.  What will our teeth gnash about and what will we weep over and what will burn like eternal fire as we are separated from it?  What will we have to leave behind?  And what will be left of us after all that must be left behind is left behind?  What will we have, or who will we be if we have spent the time allotted to us for repentance being caught up in everything else but God?

A wise Protestant Christian once said that you won’t be raptured with Christ on the Last Day if you are not enraptured with Christ today.  I think that’s pretty good.  Who you are striving to be today (even if you are failing—and we are all failing) is who you will be on the Last Day.  What enraptures us today determines how we will experience the Rapture of the Last Day, no matter when or how that takes place.

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