One trip ending in a field with a cheery voice declaring I had reached my destination now makes me double/ triple check the postcode I tap in. Even then, as I get closer I really sweat on where I will end up. I really like to know where I am going and as the miles disappear I often regret not making even a cursory check of the map.
The danger lies in relying on what you presume to be the destination only to find that you are woefully short or wide of the markI am neither a biblical scholar nor anything more than a gutter theologian! - but when it comes to eschatology I get nervous with what people rely on. At this time of year when we recognise Jesus as the prototype for the resurrection of the body, we take hope in the potential for new creation when Heaven and Earth will be one. I wonder if tapping in the wrong code can leave us woefully short in any kind of understanding. Travelling blind, without even a cursory glance at the deeper meanings of Paul’s metaphorical points can leave us wide of the mark in our understanding.
To engage with novels as theology has implications – it takes a good read of Walter Wink to detox from the influence of Frank Perretti’s spiritual warfare. It takes a good read of NT Wright to detox from the Left Behind Series and to understand that there is more to Christian hope than being snatched out our homes and communities to be with Jesus!
Dealing with 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, NT Wright (Wright 2002) is keen to point out that Paul’s purpose is to comfort, and that he draws together OT imagery to inspire hope. Wright illustrates that to read ‘rapture’ into this text is to make the mistake of not understanding Paul’s words in the way they were intended.
Wright points out and wants us to understand that:
- Paul never intended, nor did his readers understand or ‘suppose that heaven is physically above us’;
- That rather than a place, heaven is God’s dimension;
- While a risky metaphor, ‘descending’ is an echo of and understood within the hope of Moses.
- Paul was not thinking of a literal vertical ascent, the language is taken from Daniel 7 as the Son of Man is vindicated after his suffering.
- Meeting with the Lord is reminiscent of Roman citizens going out to meet an emperor when paying a state visit and then accompanying him back.
NT Wright ruptures the rapture by showing that rather more strength can be seen in a framework of New Creation:
The key is to realize that resurrection is not a disembodied life in some mid -air heaven but in the re-embodiment of God's people to love with and for God in the new redeemed world that God will make. (Wright 2002:125)
Wright, T. (2004). Paul for Everyone: Galatians and Thessalonians (For Everyone). SPCK