Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #094. First published in the St. Cloud Times online May 2, 2015; in print May 3

Less than five months out of office, and Michele Bachmann is back in her favorite place, the limelight.

When interviewed recently on the "Understanding the End Times" radio program, she reiterated her declaration that the end of the world, including the rapture of the church, is imminent. She rehashed some old arguments, but the new wrinkles are her linking President Obama's effort to negotiate a nuclear weapons deal with Iran to biblical prophecy as she interprets it — and her suspicion that the deal presages the appearance of Islam's "hidden imam."

Many have dismissed her statement as "wacko" or "nuts," and Obama dealt with it deftly and humorously at the White House Correspondents' Dinner: "Michele Bachmann actually predicted that I would bring about the biblical end of days. Now that's a legacy. That's big. I mean Lincoln, Washington — they didn't do that."

I suspect there is widespread assumption that she is on the fringe, not to be taken seriously. I want to take a different tack.

Millions of people share Bachmann's view. Given the energy and drama of rapture theology — it purports to fit into place all the pieces of the historical and theological puzzle — its capacity to shape a political culture outstrips the numbers of its adherents. They are filled with certainty and passionate intensity.

The theology itself deserves scrutiny.

It is an interpretation of the Bible that has a long ancestry. It presents itself as obvious, the only plausible reading of the text.

Repeated contradictions over the centuries between predictions and what actually happens have not diminished believers' fervor. A New Yorker magazine cartoon shows a doomsday prophetic type carrying a sign: "Yesterday in this space I predicted that the world would come to an end. It did not, however. I regret any inconvenience this may have caused." But such prophets hardly ever "regret the inconvenience." They simply recalibrate and redouble their efforts.

Rapture theology is big business. The "Left Behind" series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins has sold 65 million copies.

The late Jerry Falwell said: "In terms of its impact on Christianity, it's probably greater than that of any other book in modern times, outside the Bible."

I don't normally cite Falwell as a source, but in this case I suspect he may have been right.

"Prophets said we look to the future," Bachmann declared. "We long to see those days, live in those days. Why? Because it is the return of a soon incoming king. Jesus Christ is coming back. We in our lifetimes, potentially, could see Jesus Christ returning to earth, the rapture of the Church. These are wonderful times but we see the destruction. But, this is a destruction that was foretold."

By inexorable rapture logic, Christians must pray that the nuclear arms deal with Iran not work, because if it did — if Obama turned out to be a peacemaker (Jesus called such people "blessed") — God's apocalyptic timetable would be thwarted.

My problem with all this is specifically theological. The last thing in the world — or out of the world — that I want is an eternity spent glorifying the God who operates the way Bachmann believes he (and she most definitely means He) does.

If Christian identity required me to sign on to rapture theology, then in the name of God and for the love of Christ I could not be a Christian.

I don't claim that God's ways are my ways, but I cannot believe that God's ways are so inferior to mine as to justify the arbitrariness and cruelty of "the last days" to which Bachmann looks forward so eagerly. If what she says of God is true, my conscience tells me that hell is preferable to heaven.

A friend told me a horrific story. Once when he was a child and at the grocery store with his mother, he got separated from her. As he searched for her, he looked down an aisle and saw her cart, but she was not with it. "The rapture has happened and she has been taken and I'm still here!"

I simply cannot believe that God would fashion the world in a way to warrant that child's sheer terror.