Truth, Facts, and the Rapture

Posted on May 24th, 2011

The fact that the Rapture did not occur on Saturday is not that surprising to most of us—far more of us than the devoted few who were taken aback by the fact that it did not occur. And there could be a temptation to gloat that Harold Camping and his band of extremists were proven to be wrong. But there is also a lot of sadness associated with the whole event.

I was particularly struck by a news report I saw about a regular looking family in which the parents were utterly convinced that the rapture would occur, while their three teenage children did not share their view and were embarrassed way beyond the normal teenage embarrassment of their parents. Not only were they embarrassed, but they were concerned about going to college as their parents were spending all their money on marketing for their religious views.

It also means that a lot of people had reason to mock Christianity and religion in general. Certainly those Facebook fans who signed up for the “post rapture looting party” were disappointed. While that added a humorous side to the whole event, it certainly did not create any kind of positive image for belief in God.

While most of us do not share the belief that future events can be predicted using a complicated formula buried in Scripture, and while there is no point in trying to talk those who do believe in such formulas out of their belief, there is an assumption behind this kind of belief that we can all talk about. The belief behind this kind of prediction is that the Bible is to be taken literally, containing not just truth but cold, hard facts of the scientific and mathematical variety. Camping and others scouring Scripture for clues and formulas believe that the Bible contains all the necessary facts to make these specific predictions about the end of the world.

There is a very real need for teaching about the way in which the Bible is true. A book of scientific theory or mathematical principles is factual—objectively provable and proven. A novel, a piece of poetry, a wonderful aria may or may not contain factual information, but they express truth—not at a factual level, but at a deeper and more profound level of truth—at the level of the soul.

It is at this level that the Bible for Christians, and other sacred books for other religions, expresses the truth of God. This truth is far better, far more powerful and far more life-changing than a mere fact. Using the Bible literally as a book of predictions, of datable events, rather than as an inspired word that is life-affirming and life-changing is to rob it of its power. Much better to know at a deeply personal level that God is love, rather than to be able to date an historical event. Much better to know that you are loved by the very Source of all that is, than to know a chronological list of events purported to describe the last days of the planet. That is truth that changes lives, not mere fact.

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