Monday, June 20, 2011

What "Left Behind" Looks Like

The premise of the "Left Behind" series is that, somehow, some of us will be left behind after the "rapture" and be bereft of grace. I've long been critical of this very notion, that somewhere there can be a place where God is not. Here are two other people who would agree with me:

First, the Apostle Paul describes the overwhelming supremacy of grace in a way that definitively defies the very notion of God-less space in Romans 8:38-39: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." 

Second, Paul's conviction here is a reiteration of the conviction behind the139th Psalm, which asks rhetorically, "Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?" The answer is 'nowhere': If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast." 

It is the consistent witness of the Scriptures that any scenario that tries to imagine a "God-less” space" is not speaking of the God made known in the Hebrew Bible or - from the New Testament perspective - the God who is made known most explicitly through Jesus Christ. 

There is, however, one place in the Scriptures where we can speak of someone being "left behind." And that is the place where Jesus is completely abandoned. First, “the twelve,” after vehemently arguing that they would never do such a thing, desert Jesus at the time of his arrest. Judas, of course, had already worked out a deal to betray Jesus and Peter will eventually deny even knowing him. And, of course, there are the heartbreaking words from the cross that speak of absolute abandonment: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, a quote from Psalm 22).

If we want to describe the experience of God-less space, of truly being “left behind,” the place to look is not at the magical timeline of the apocalypse, but at the crucifixion of Jesus. It is there that Jesus stands in solidarity with all who suffer, with anyone whose torment evokes the words of the 22nd Psalm, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” And it is there that the paradox of hope is revealed. As Paul puts it in Romans 6:4, “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
The experience of being “left behind” is certainly a profound and tragic part of human life. But it is never the last word. From death comes life; from tragedy comes hope; from abandonment comes community. Thanks be to God.

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