End of the world

February 18, 2011

Andrew Hicks

When I was 10, I checked a movie out of the Grace Christian Bookstore. It was a 1970s evangelistic thriller from Mark IV Productions, a Christian filmmaking company that aimed to make Des Moines, Iowa, into a Branson Hollywood. Their most famous movie, A Thief in the Night, was the one I checked out that day.

I watched it by myself in the afternoon. It was Martin Luther King Day, so I was off school and hanging out in the office area of the church my mom worked in. There was a little upstairs reception waiting area no one ever actually waited in, so I’d plop down on the scratchy love seat and watch VHS while my mom worked. Occasionally, my mom’s coworkers would come through on their way to somewhere else and comment. A few asked what the movie was and seemed unfamiliar with it. A couple others said the movie scared the crap out of them when they were younger.

What was so scary? Not much, I thought the first time through. A Thief in the Night is a 70-minute Rapture movie where the Rapture doesn’t take place until 50 minutes in. The Christians disappear up to heaven, and the nonbelievers are left behind to live through a seven-year apocalyptic period that includes wars, plagues, the Antichrist and the Mark of the Beast.

This brand of premillenialist Rapture theology is a pastiche of seemingly unrelated passages from all over the Old and New Testament, not just the Book of Revelation. The Rapture idea wasn’t even really formulated until the 19th century. I didn’t know any of this at the time, but I was just the right age to identify with a little girl character in A Thief in the Night who comes home, can’t find mommy, sees her untended dinner burning up on the stove and thinks she missed the Rapture.

The cheesy chase scenes where one-world government stooges prepare to guillotine Patty, the protagonist, because she won’t take the MOTB — those kind of shook me up the second time through, after I’d gotten home that night. What jacked me up most, though, was the idea that I’d lose all my loved ones and then have to face the end of the world, the events of which were foretold, unstoppable and just around the corner.

I read all the end-times prophecy books I could get my hands on, and I watched the three sequels to A Thief in the Night, all of which scared me for different reasons. There were entire nights I could never fall asleep because I was obsessively terrified of the end of the world. I spent months sleeping on the couch in my mom’s bedroom, so I could be sure she was still here on earth and not snatched up to heaven at the holy trumpet’s call. I had a dream that I couldn’t sell sixth-grade camp fundraiser candy bars because I didn’t have the MOTB.

I remember getting ready for school one morning and overhearing Deborah Norville say, “1988 was not a good year for the ozone layer,” as part of a story intro. It ruined my entire day, because it was another sign the end was near. I was never going to grow up, I was going to miss the Rapture, UNITE agents were gonna capture and torture me. These kinds of things can distract a young kid from regular school subjects.

These, for an adolescent, were truly dark, living-in-fear moments of the soul. I’d pray for peace and comfort, and it wouldn’t come. I didn’t tell anybody what was bothering me. And it went on for years, with varying intensity. I imagine it’s not too dissimilar from the worst reactions to the “duck and cover” feeling of being a kid during the Cold War. There’s a lot of irrational fear going up my family tree on my mom’s side, and I’ve certainly dealt with my share of it in areas other than this.

It seems surreal and almost unfathomable to me now that I could lose entire happy years to a fear of missing the Rapture, but it most certainly happened to me. My tale is nuttier than most, assuredly, but talk to some Christian school kids my age sometime. I’m not the only one.

One Response to “End of the world”

  1. Josh Renaud Says:

    I have a distinct memory of watching a Thief in the Night in room 110 of the education bldg at Grace back in the day. I want to say it was 6th grade children’s ministry, but maybe not. There were a lot of people there. I remember being freaked out by the guillotine thing, too.

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