In Raptures

The fact that you’re reading this suggests that the “Rapture” did not take place as scheduled on 21st May. But then, I don’t suppose that you thought it would. Neither did I.

The whole idea of the rapture grows out of a particular way of reading the bible. The idea that scripture can be read in such a way as to make it possible to predict the date of the Second Coming requires an especially literal understanding of the text.

Such an understanding of scripture is remarkably modern. Certainly those who wrote the books of the bible would be surprised, and perhaps a little amused, that people would try to make sense of the stories in this way. Of course, believing that things are either literally true or untrue is very modern way of looking at things. And today we are not used to handling texts that give what look to us like factual accounts of events as if there might be a different way of understanding them. We may still like metaphors as a literary device in a piece of descriptive writing or in a poem but we are not at all comfortable with an extended text which we need to understand metaphorically. And so we fall into the trap of interpreting the bible as if its reliability were simply a case of black or white.

Of course, there are many ways of reading scripture and all of them require an interpretation of the text. Deciding whether a particular book or passage of the bible should be read literally is a decision involving interpretation. Indeed the very act of reading scripture requires an act of interpretation, but we shouldn’t be nervous about that at all. Whether we read the bible as metaphor or allegory or history or moral instruction will affect how we approach it.

But to make an assumption that all scripture is literal is to make an idol of the bible.

In the second letter to Timothy Paul wrote, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3.16) Christians have never believed that scripture was written at God’s dictation, but through his inspiration. It was written for many purposes and needs to be read in the same spirit. Just as the writers were inspired by God to write the words they wrote so do we need to be inspired to read them.

Reading the bible is a sort of dialogue that we have with God. In the words he reveals himself and his truth to us, but it is our response which makes those words and those truths real to us. The words of scripture should fire our imaginations to try to understand the message that God has for us. It opens us up to new ways of thinking and of seeing God at work in our world, and in our lives, today. Reading it literally can be a deadening experience because it has no context in our own reality and experience. That requires us to bring our imaginations into whole process of interpreting and understanding what God’s word is saying to us today.

Let scripture live. Read it with an open mind.

Author: exultemus

I am the Parish Priest of five Anglican parishes in South Somerset. I love rugby union and cricket. I enjoy jazz and classical music (and lots besides).

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