Could teaching what's described in the Bible as a “blessed hope” actually be a source of anxiety and trauma?
An article published by CNN Tuesday with the headline, “For some Christians, ‘rapture anxiety’ can take a lifetime to heal,” depicts the eschatological doctrine of the imminent return of Jesus Christ for His Church as a “chronic problem.”
The article also describes the teaching as "recognized by some faith experts and mental health professionals as a type of religious trauma."
Featuring a stock photo with the caption, “Some Christians develop fears related to teachings of the rapture,” the article profiles two women who have battled so-called rapture anxiety, including April Ajoy, who recalled waking up to a quiet home as a 13-year-old girl and fearing she had missed the prophetic End Times event.
The article reads in part: “Ajoy’s mind began churning, trying to remember, trying to make plans. When was the last time she had sinned? Should she refusethe mark of the beast? At least, she thought, if she was put to the guillotine during the time of tribulation, it would be a quick death.”
Describing the event as when “righteous Christians ascend into heaven, while the rest are left behind to suffer," CNN adds, “However it happens, it is something to be both feared and welcomed, to be prayed about and prepared for every moment of a believer’s life."
Another woman, Georgia resident Chelsea Wilson, told the cable news outlet that she grew up in the Evangelical “community” and believed the End Times teaching was akin to a “scary campfire story.”
CNN points to social media chatter from “exvangelicals” — former Evangelical Christians who have since turned to unbelief — who were subjected to “violent rapture-themed films” or spent their childhood years “crying themselves to sleep thinking about people and pets that would be left behind when the end finally came.”
The article — which was not categorized as an opinion piece on CNN’s website — also appears to take aim at Evangelical churches by describing the rapture as a fringe teaching of “dispensational premillennialism,” adding that such teaching “is not prevalent in Catholic or mainline Protestant denominations like Episcopalianism or Presbyterianism, and is most commonly adhered to in Evangelical and fundamental churches.”
For analysis of the doctrine and its impact on believers, CNN reached out to Darren Slade, president and CEO of the Global Center for Religious Research, a "non-religiously affiliated academic society and publishing house."
Slade, whose website states “certain religious contexts have also been responsible for a number of traumatic experiences for people all around the globe,” told CNN that “rapture anxiety” is a “real thing” and a “chronic problem.”
“This is a new area of study, but in general, our research has revealed that religious trauma leads to an increase of anxiety, depression, paranoia and even some OCD-like behaviors: ‘I need to say this prayer of salvation so many times,’ ‘I need to confess my sins so often,’” he was quoted as saying.
But on Slade’s own website, he acknowledges that “the academic study of religious trauma remains in its infancy when compared to other studies in mental health.”
“Sadly, this means that there is no actual empirical data to support what we have seen and experienced in the tens of thousands: that religious trauma exists and is a chronic problem within many religions,” the statement continues.
The Christian Post reached out to both CNN and Slade for comment, but their responses were not received by press time.
Known more commonly as “the Rapture,” the doctrine stems from the word harpazo in the Greek, the original language of the New Testament, and literally means “to seize by force; snatch up, suddenly and decisively.”
The word is used in oft-cited verses such as 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which is often cited as a proof text by Rapture proponents.
Others point to verses such as Titus 2:13, where the Apostle Paul describes the "blessed hope" of Christians everywhere as "the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ."
While certainly a topic of rigorous debate among theologians and other Christian thinkers, can the Rapture — which essentially teaches that Jesus will remove Christians from the world prior to what will be the most disastrous period in human history — actually be a source of trauma?
“I think if it’s taken out of context or taught to young kids without the full context of what Jesus promised, what our hope is as believers ... it can be a little scary,” said Christian author Todd Hampson, who's also the co-host of the popular Prophecy and Pros Podcast.
“I don’t know if I’d call it trauma. That’s probably a pretty extreme word, I haven’t heard it put that way before,” Hampson told The Christian Post.
He said suggestions such as CNN’s statement that the Rapture teaching didn’t emerge until the 1800s are flat-out false, pointing to early Church documents showing all Christians were awaiting what they believed was the imminent return of the Lord.
In addition to the passages cited by CNN, Hampton also pointed to Jesus’ promise to receive His disciples to Himself upon His return in the 14th Chapter of the Gospel of John.
While Rapture works of fiction such as the Left Behind series have brought the doctrine into the cultural mainstream, Hampson said even fictional accounts of Bible prophecy have “done way more good than harm.”
“What it’s done is turned a lot of believers back to the Bible to study what Scripture actually says about those events,” he said.
But what about the CNN article suggesting that interpretations about the Rapture “vary widely” and may be merely a “poetic metaphor"?
Hampson said when it comes to Bible prophecy, you can either allegorize it or receive it at face value.
“God says what He means and means what He says,” he added. “If we come to Scripture with a belief that is inspired by God and He put it together, then every word is intentional.”