There is one issue about the Rapture that is often overlooked or not considered by most Christian apologists and theologians: the issue is that of how the Rapture fails to reconcile suffering in Christian theology. Any casual reader of the Bible can plainly see that suffering is an ongoing theme present in almost every book of the Bible. It is because of the ongoing theme of suffering that suffering plays a crucial component in biblical theology. My aim is to illuminate the issue of suffering and show briefly how the Rapture does not fit into biblical theology because it does away with suffering.The Rapture: A non-Catholic theological belief which proposes that Christ will come secretly and unexpectedly – “like a thief in the night” – in order to save those people who have authentically given their lives over to Christ and have accepted Him as their personal Lord and Savior before the start of and from the suffering and tribulation that the world and Church will go through before Christ’s second coming (1 Thes. 5:2 RSV).
It is not surprising that belief in the Rapture has become popular -- it is everywhere: TV, Radio, Books, Magazines, etc… It is also almost impossible to avoid non-catholic preachers who profess and promote a belief in the Rapture. Due to its prevalence in protestant theology (particularly the evangelical sects of Christianity) and its seemingly quasi-omnipresence, it is clear that Rapture theology is seeping into all parts of Christian theology.
What is it about this teaching that is so appealing that it works its ways into the staunchest of Christian minds? Simple, Rapture theology claims to offer God’s mercy and salvation from suffering. It is true that every person desires God’s love and Mercy (whether they know it or openly deny it), and it is human nature to want not to suffer: nobody likes being in pain of any sort. With that being the case, how can the Rapture not be appealing? It gives without asking of anything in return.
However, what is really being offered is not mercy nor is it salvation, for the Rapture actually negates (or at least severely limits) God’s mysterious ability to turn “mourning into dancing”, sadness into joy, and suffering into salvation (Ps 30:11 RSV). The Rapture does this by proposing that through God’s mercy Christ plucks all believing Christians off the earth before a terrible period of world wide and church wide suffering. Without suffering, God cannot bring about a good from sorrows; therefore, the Rapture does not allow people to suffer for the greater glory of God. The Rapture does not allow humanity to work with God’s mysterious Will, for suffering allows humanity to be “collaborators with God’s Will … and co-workers for His Kingdom” (Catechism of the Catholic Church §300). By plucking people from the earth the Rapture does not give the Raptured person the opportunity to, as Paul says, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thes 5:18 RSV).
What the Rapture truly proposes is avoidance of suffering and not salvation from suffering. Rapturists promote suffering to be a thing worse than sin, but suffering is not what is wrong with the world: it is sin which is the problem. It is sin from which humanity needs salvation. To make suffering a graver evil than sin is like putting the cart before the horse, and it is like chopping down a weed in hopes to solve one’s gardening problems without considering the root of the plant as the source of the real problem. Because of this backwards view of sin, suffering, and salvation, the Rapture fails to provide the Christian with the means and depth of Christ’s original sacrifice that makes suffering meaningful and valid for the journey towards Christian perfection. In other words, the Rapture does not and cannot make sense out of suffering, and the thing humanity needs is salvation from sin and help with suffering.
I do not propose to solve the problem of suffering. I do not know why God allows it, but I do know that God uses it to His and humanity’s advantage (if humanity only allows). But a fact of life is that every person who is alive will suffer at some point in their life. Suffering seems to be one of those unavoidable facts of life, but because it is unavoidable, it does not mean that people should seek out suffering. Suffering has a way of finding us well enough on its own – there is no need to help it along.
After all is said and done, there are two basic responses to suffering. The first is to run from it or avoid it, which caries with it the physically component of suffering. The other is to learn from it and let the suffering experience make you a better person, which caries with it the spiritually and emotionally component of suffering. The Rapture does the former, while not even considering the latter. The theology surrounding the Rapture then becomes an escapist view of the end of days. It is a teaching that fails to empower the Christian to actively participate in making the world a better place. Because if I am Raptured then who cares about the people left behind? In other words, Rapture theology is a coward’s theology. It is a wanting to follow God without carrying the cross. It is a wanting of everything without doing anything to get it.
Yet, upon examining the Bible, that ever present theme of suffering sifts its way to the surface of biblical understanding and Christian life. Suffering becomes the crucial component to Christian theology as well as the Christian life. Most interesting God never seems to save His chosen people from suffering; however, He does bring His chosen people through and out of suffering. Think of Abraham who underwent a series of ten suffering tests, which culminated in God’s wanting Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen 21). God did not spare Abraham from suffering; in fact, if you were to read the Abram/Abraham cycle it would almost appear as if God leads Abram/Abraham into the suffering.
Still, think of other of God’s chosen people in the Old Testament. Who did he save from suffering? Who did he save from suffering only to have them enter into a different kind of suffering? Did God save Jacob from treacherous journeys across the desert alone or from being fooled by Laban into marring the wrong girl? No. Did God save Jacob’s beloved son Joseph from suffering, or Moses, or Jonah, or David, or Job, or even the seven brothers from 2 Maccabees 7? No, God did not save any of these people from suffering, but He did allow their suffering to happen, and He did bring them through it and the strength to endure it.
When God allows suffering to occur to His chosen, God always rewards the suffering party. Abraham gets a great nation and offspring from Sarah. Jacob receives his chosen wife and a number of offspring. Joseph becomes second in command only to the Pharaoh – he eventually saves the nation of Israel from starvation. Moses is exalted and given the blessing of seeing God and leading His chosen people. Job, in turn, is rewarded times over by his faithful suffering. In other words, there is a pattern of God choosing a person. That person then suffers in some way. Then through that suffering God leads him to a blessing, an exaltation, or reward. It is as if the suffering occurs so that the person may be tested and proven that he or she is God’s chosen, and after the testing that person is then able to take his or her spot as God’s chosen.
Further still, people might object and say “that is fine and dandy for the Old Testament, but how is that the case for the New Testament?” One only has to read the words of Christ to realize that suffering is part of New Testament theology as well. Suffering did not and does not end with Christ. For arguably it can be said that Christ came to usher in suffering as He said that He came to bring “division,” to set a house against itself, and to put “father against son” (Lk 12:51-53 RSV). If suffering was to end with Christ then why is it that the Apostle Paul references to being “crucified with Christ” and that for the Christian it is the “old self” that is crucified (Ga 2:20, Romans 6:6 RSV)?
Moreover, one only has to look at Christ to find the answer to this problem, for through Christ’s suffering it can be realized that there is some merit in suffering. If suffering was a thing to be avoided and there was nothing to be gained in suffering, as the Rapture proposes, then Christ Himself would not have suffered and died upon the cross for humanity’s sins. Christ instead would have jumped straight into His glorified state, but the bible states otherwise. Christ did not jump into His glorified state without first suffering a cruel passion, and it was only by His passion and death that He was later exalted by rising and ascending into Heaven. In other words, God did not save even His own Child from suffering.
If a person is to look past the Gospels he or she finds instances of suffering for the faith. For in Acts 5 it is written that the council of high priests beat the Apostles, and after the beating the Apostles “left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41 RSV). Still we see that God tells Anani’ in Acts 9 that God will reveal to Saul/Paul “how much [Saul/Paul] must suffer for the sake of [Christ’s] name” (Acts 9:16 RSV).
In addition to Acts, there is much in the epistles about suffering. One letter in particular is that of 1 Peter, where Peter constantly encourages his readers who suffer. In a letter only five short chapters, the reader in reminded a number of times that suffering for God is a good thing. As Peter writes, “if you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval” (1 Pt 2:20 RSV). Then again he writes that “even if you do suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed (1 Pt 3:14 RSV). Still again Peter writes only three verses later that “it is better to suffer for doing right, if that should be God’s will, than for doing wrong.” (1 Pt 3:17 RSV). Lastly the reader is reminded in 1 Peter 4 to “rejoice in … Christ’s sufferings” and “if one suffers as a Christian …let him glorify God” and finally to “those who suffer according to God’s will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator” (1 Pt 4:13, 16, 19). Even the book of Revelation encourages the believer to “not fear what you are about to suffer” (Rev 2:10 RSV).
Realizing that God did not spare even His own Son from suffering death and learning from Paul that every believer is a son of God then what does that mean to the modern believer today? Since we are God’s sons the only possible conclusion is that we too will suffer as Christ suffered before, as the Christian is to “follow in [Christ’s] steps” (1 Pt 2:21 RSV). Following in Christ’s steps means to suffer as Christ did and to be crucified with Christ as Paul was crucified with Christ (Ga 2:20 RSV). This suffering which the Christian is to under go will occur before he or she is exalted. But how can the Christian suffer as Christ suffered if they are taken away and out of the earth before they can under go the most sever kind of suffering? How does glorification and blessing occur when the vehicle (that vehicle being suffering) God uses for humanity to obtain those blessings are taken away?
Finally, imagine for a moment where Christianity would be today if Christ had not suffered. Imagine where Christianity would be today if the Apostles had not suffered. Imagined where Christianity would be today if Christians had not suffered. Imagine where would Christianity be today if the Saints had not suffered. Yet the Rapture proposes to take away this amazingly mysterious vehicle and witness to the Christian faith solely because suffering isn’t easy. Therefore, the Rapture cannot and does not follow from Biblical theology and should not be believe by any Christian, for as Christ suffered, we too must suffer.