Sunday, July 4, 2010

It's the End of the World as We Know It


I saw the vehicle in town twice about a month ago. I think it was a shrink-wrapped bus. It was white, had no visible windows aft of the driver's compartment, and was printed on every visible side with Bible verses, admonitions to listen to Family Radio, and most prominently the warning, "May 21, 2011 - Judgment Day."

My curiosity was piqued, so I did what any twenty-first century digital citizen would do: I googled. The results of my search pointed to a radio preacher named Harold Camping, who believes that Jesus will return to rapture all true Christians out of the world on May 21 of next year. Those who are left behind will suffer a five month period of torture and tribulation. Finally, according to Camping, on October 21, 2011, the world will come to an end and the wicked will be annihilated.

Could Camping possibly be right? I am thinking that the bookmakers would give him long odds. Every other doomsday prophet who has set a date for the end has been wrong so far. It might be worth noting that this is the second time Harold Camping has predicted the end of the world. His first predicted date for Judgment Day was September 6, 1994. I am sure that I don't have to tell you it did not pan out.

Please understand. I do not mean to mock Harold Camping or any of his followers. I have no reason to doubt Mr. Camping's sincerity. I simply believe that he is wrong. It is possible to be both sincere and wrong. On May 22, 2011 we will all know one way or the other

Harold Camping puts me in mind of William Miller. If you do not know the story, Miller was a Yankee farmer who, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, studied his King James Bible, along with Bishop Ussher's Annals of the Old Testament, and came to the startling conclusion that Jesus would return to earth sometime between March 1843 and March 1844. At first Miller was hesitant to publish his findings, but eventually he found himself the leader of an interdenominational Adventist movement.

Miller was always reluctant to set a specific date for the Second Coming. Others in the Millerite movement (as it was called) were less reticent. When March of 1844 passed without incident, hasty recalculations were made and the date of Jesus' return was announced as October 22, 1844, a day that later came to be known as "the Great Disappointment." The problem was not with William Miller's calculations. The problem was with his premises. The most rigorous logic will still yield false results if it proceeds from false premises.

William Miller's story ought to serve as a caution, not only to Harold Camping, but to anyone who would put undue confidence in their particular interpretation of the Bible. It is possible to be both sincere and wrong.

The title and subtitle for this blog are borrowed from a catchy little song by REM. The photograph was taken from Rev. Chuck Currie's blog. His entry, and particularly the discussion it engendered, make an interesting read.


  1. Hiya Br. Brant,

    Ah, the (s)hell game of predicting the end of the world. . . Seems like such beliefs are companions (is that the right word?) of Christian belief throughout the centuries.

    Recall Hal Lindsey has sold a few million of his "Late Great Planet Earth"s on his prediction of 1988 as the world's end.

    I suggest that Camping doesn't give a bleep about the "bookmakers" as much as the books sold.

    (Can I say 'bleep' on a family blog? I also assume their is still such a thing as books.)

    Anyway, one thing is for dern sure, unfaith and faith are companions on our human journey, both carried inside the believing human person. The rantings of the world's end by the Campings and Lindseys and Millers feeds on the data of despair and spits in the eye of the message of the Gospel: of the death of the Son of God on the cross, of the sufficiency of the promise of the resurrection of all things, and of Christ's being "all in all".

    I suspect, (while refraining from truly nasty terms to describe these folks and their deleterious effect on church and society,) that my response to them should be one of sorrow and compassion. I do so recognizing that their "faith tradition" has no place to go with the challenges of the world's randomness and despair, and at the same time, believing that these "predictions" are expressions of their unbelief. Others of us, e.g. Lutherans, simply hope that our own expressions are at least more subtle.

    Peace & Joy,

  2. Hi, Jim!

    I have a bookshelf full of books, pamphlets and tracts that I have collected over the last 30 years or so. Each of them sets a date, with more of less specificity, for Jesus' return. One goes so far as to say that, though we "cannot know the hour nor the day," we may still know the month and year. One of my favorites adduced 88 reasons why the rapture could be in 1988.

    (It reminds me of a Crosby, Stills and Nash song..."Forty-nine reasons/all in a line/All of them good ones/ All of them lies")

    This is not to say that I think the authors of any of these books was a deliberate liar. They were, simply, mistaken.

    As for Hal Lindsay, I'm surprised that he still finds an audience. Still, somehow, he does. Apocalypticism has always found a niche.

    I don't think that Harold Camping is in anyway insincere or crass. I have no idea how much personal wealth the man has accumulated, but from what I have read, he seems genuinely convinced that he has found the key to God's secret code and has correctly identified the date of Doomsday. If I am not mistaken, his literature is all given away free of charge.

    I have had replies from some of his followers. You may have guessed that from my most recent post. If anyone is interested in learning more about Camping's teachings, there are enough links in this post to get them well started. Some of the replies were longer than my original post. I'm not interested in allowing my blog to become a platform for Camping's teachings. There are plenty of other places on the web for that. Nor have I the time, interest or inclination to debate with Camping's followers. Anyone who has read some of my previous posts knows that I don't shy from disagreement. I just don't see that particular debate as being germane to my themes.

    The fact is, I cited Camping, and William Miller, not to vilify or ridicule, but to remind us all that there is danger in putting too much faith in their interpretation of Scripture (and everyone who reads Scripture interprets it) and too little faith in the God revealed in Scripture.

    God bless!


    P.S. You are welcome to say "bleep" on my blog anytime.