[Todd Strandberg is a thirty-four-year-old supply sergeant with the United States Air Force. He lives in Bellevue, Nebraska. He is also the creator and administrator of the Rapture Index, a constantly changing index of 45 signs that together, Todd says, give an indication of how soon the rapture might occur. The rapture, according to some Christians (including Todd), is the traumatic event, predicted in Revelations, in which all believing Christians will be gathered up into heaven in an instant, leaving everyone else on Earth to undergo the "tribulation," a seven-year period of chaos and war. Todd maintains the index on a Gateway 2000 computer that sits on a desk in his living room littered with reference books, post-it notes, empty bags of microwaved popcorn, and a well-thumbed Bible. This interview was conducted by Open Letters editor Paul Tough, via email, in May, June, and July 2000.]
Paul: What's the point of the Rapture Index?
Todd: The Index was very much inspired by the Dow Jones Industrial Average. If the Dow is up 50 points, you know the general market is rising. If the Rapture Index is up 5 points, you can say the progression of Bible prophecy has increased.
Paul: Why did you start it?
Todd: The index was designed to standardize the observations people make about end-time events. As we get closer to the time period known as the tribulation, the Bible tells us the quantity and number of natural disasters will increase. Man will equally go afoul, becoming more and more wicked as the years progress.
The need for an index came to me when I noticed there were a number of conflicting views on the intensity and frequency of one sign of the times - earthquakes. One group was saying quakes were increasing exponentially, while another group, pointing to the same data, was saying earthquakes were holding steady. If people can't even count something as simple as tectonic movements of the earth, what yardstick would they possibly use to measure something like apostasy?
Paul: So how did you decide to deal with that question? How can you take something like apostasy or demonic activity, or false prophets, or some of the other, less tangible numbers in the index and put a precise number on it?
Todd: Although some topics are hard to quantitate in exact numbers, I believe it is possible to measure everything to some degree. To get a reading of apostasy you look for news reports of doctrinal disputes in the Church. There are a number of web sites that specialize in keeping track of apostasy.
Paul: So what does the index stand at today?
Todd: The Rapture index stands at an active 160.
Paul: And what's the highest it's ever reached?
Todd: The all-time high was 176, set on May 24, 1999. The lowest reading was 57, set on December 12, 1993.
Paul: Can you give me an example of an index topic that you're tracking right now?
Todd: In the past week I've been particularly interested in drought. It has been very dry in several regions of the world. The Horn of Africa and the south central portion of Asia are in the grip of severe drought conditions. The United States has also been coming up short of its normal rainfall.
Paul: How does tracking drought connect to the coming of the rapture?
Todd: The Bible describes the seven-year tribulation as a time of unprecedented calamity - global drought, hundred-pound hailstones, and more earthquakes than a seismologist could dream about. Unless the bad stuff of Revelation is predetermined to start at the very beginning of the tribulation, it's a safe bet to expect a build-up ahead of the main activity. Jesus said the end-times would come like birth pangs, and everyone knows those grow more painful as we get closer to the birth. Because the rapture of the Church is set to occur before the start of tribulation, indications of any tribulation events must be taken as a warning sign of the rapture.
Paul: When you look at the way the index has been performing over the last couple of years, do you feel like it's pointing to the rapture arriving in a matter of weeks, months, or years? Or is it even possible to estimate?
Todd: The rapture is supposed to be a surprise event. The only way to judge the closeness of the rapture is to estimate the nearness of the events that will follow it. Matthew 24:42 indicates that any attempt at date setting is pure folly: "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come."
Paul: So then I'm confused about the purpose of the index. You're trying to predict, at least roughly, how likely the rapture is to come soon, right? But if it's truly meant to be a surprise, isn't it likely that there won't be any signs at all, that it will come when we least expect it, at a moment of calm and peace and plenty?
Todd: Well, Paul, I knew you were going to ask me this. There's a scripture that says believers would not be in darkness about his coming. The fact that he tells us to vigilantly look for signs - that would indicate there is a benefit for those who remain watchful.
I would liken the coming of the rapture to the speculation that surrounded Boris Yeltsin's ability to hold on to political office. You just knew his days were numbered every time he ended up in the hospital, or when he lapsed into another one of his drinking binges. But during the three years of speculation, no one would have guessed Yeltsin would be calling it quits on January 1, 2000.
Don't get too focused on the word "surprise." Every day I wake up expecting the possibility of the rapture. If it happened tomorrow, I would in some fashion be surprised, but not totally. Of course, the level of surprise will probably vary from person to person.
Paul: So tell me about the last year in general how does the index stand compared to a year ago, and what are the main five or so contributors to that move?
Todd: The index has remained at very lofty levels for about four years now. After the Gulf War boom, in 1990, it dropped below the 100 point mark several times, but from 1996 to the present the index has never gone below the magic 100 level. If I had to venture a guess why the index remains at such at high levels, I would say we are getting very close to the fulfillment of these prophetic events. To put it simply, the predicted future is about to become the present.
Paul: Throughout history, prophecy has often been a fairly mystical field people who put out prophetic messages, who dwell in the land of prophecy, tend to be a bit divorced from the material world. Do you feel that's true for you?
Todd: Because my allegiance is with a world that stands in opposition to the core value of this realm, I don't think I could feel anything but divorced.
Paul: But my sense is that you're a pretty rational person that you like things that are precise and coherent and can be measured.
Todd: As a whole, I believe the men and women that employ themselves as prophetic watchdogs have amassed one of the most dismal records of any profession. I strive for that which is rational because I am looking for truth.
Paul: Do you ever feel prophetic messages on a more spiritual, intangible level do you ever "just know" things?
Todd: Because there are so many false prophets out there claiming to receive supernatural knowledge, I've always viewed this area as being too dangerous to enter. The main reason I started my index was to counter the notion that every oddity of life can viewed as a sign of the approaching tribulation - rare frogs dying out or whales beaching themselves.
Paul: So that's what prophecy study was like before you came along? People would just say, here's something weird that happened, that must be a sign that the rapture is coming?
Todd: Yes. Success in the prophetic realm seems to rest on a speaker's ability to connect the most outlandish news items to prophecy. Premature death in the animal kingdom is a favorite of several end-time commentators.
Paul: The thing that interests me the most about you and your project is that you seem to me to stand between two worlds. You have all these tools and methods and tendencies that are hyperrational, orderly, high-tech, material, mathematical and you're employing all of those tools and abilities in the service of a field that has been, all the way back to the biblical prophets, completely non-rational and mystical, that depends upon faith in things unseen and unmeasurable. Do you ever feel that tension?
Todd: You could say I "stand between two worlds," but I don't feel awkward or conflicted in my dealings with the prophetic realm. The only way to measure the supernatural is with physical standards.
I think most people get messed up when they try to gauge earthly matters with spiritual standards. I've seen many people try to link the occurrence of earthquakes with dates on which grievous immoral acts or decisions were made. For example, if President Clinton vetoes a bill that would have restricted late-term abortions, and then the next day a 4.5 magnitude quake strikes in the Nevada desert, there is always going to be someone saying the two are linked. But in fact we have no way of knowing why any particular earthquake occurs. The Bible only says earthquakes will strike in greater numbers as we get closer to the tribulation.
Paul: You've chosen forty-five factors to track. Do you ever wonder if you've got the right ones? Do you ever wonder if there are other things that you should be tracking that would be more accurate predictors?
Todd: The forty-five categories have evolved over the years. I started with just twenty, but within weeks it grew to thirty, forty, and then forty-five. I've deleted several categories that turned out to be vague, or related to passing current events, and I replaced them with ones I believe to be more in tune with Bible prophecy.
Paul: Are there any categories that you've cut over the years?
Todd: Yes, I've cut out several categories. Greenhouse, New Age, Hurricanes, and Tornadoes were once listed in the index.
Paul: How did you make that decision?
Todd: Some of the changes were made for cosmetic reasons. I didn't think "Second Roman Empire" sounded good, so I renamed it "Beast Government," and for the same reason, "World Church" became "Ecumenism." I rarely ever actually delete a category. The majority of the modifications were done to combine overly specific categories into ones that have a broader range. I moved "AIDS" into "plagues," and "New Age" was redubbed "Occult."
Paul: How much of your time is devoted to the Index these days? Does it ever interfere with other things in your life?
Todd: I normally devote several hours each day to prophecy-related matters. I spend most of my time answering email. It's a continuous flood that never ebbs. I get letters that range from the distressed to the deranged. The number two demand on my time would be reading through all the news web sites - both secular and Christian.
I don't have much of a life apart from my web site, so there's very little interference to be found. I realize that may sound pathetic to some folks, but when you consider that the average male's life consists largely of beer and sports, I would say I have a better grasp of the fullness of life than most.