Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October 21, 2011

The followers of Baptist preacher William Miller believed that Jesus would return by March 21, 1844. When this prediction proved false, the Millerites did some quick recalculations and pinned their hopes on October 22 of that same year. It is probably a relief to you and me that this date passed without apocalyptic incident, but the Millerites came to call it “The Great Disappointment.”

A short time later Ellen G. White had a vision in which she learned that, while nothing visible had happened on October 22, 1844, something invisible had, in fact, occurred. Jesus had entered the sanctuary of the heavenly temple. On the basis of this teaching, the phoenix of Seventh Day Adventism arose from the ashes of the Millerite movement.

In 1992, Harold Camping wrote a book called 1994? in which he speculated that the Rapture might occur on September 6 of that titular year. The day, of course, came and went like any other day. Nothing visible happened. This was no problem for Camping. As Ellen White had done, Camping simply explained that something invisible had happened. The “Church Age” had ended. From that time on, salvation could not be found in the institutional churches. Instead, salvation was available only through Camping’s ministry.

In the 1994? book, Camping left himself an out. His calculations also indicated that, should the world last that long, May 21, 2011 would be a significant date. As May 21 approached we saw the billboards and caravan vehicles and media reports trumpeting Camping’s message. May 21, 2011 would be Judgment Day. “The Bible Guarantees It!” On that day the true believers would be caught up in the air to meet Jesus. Worldwide earthquakes would mark the beginning of a 6 month period of punishment, horror and tribulation. Then on October 21, the planet earth would cease to exist.

As we all by now know, no judgment took place on May 21. At least there was no visible judgment. At, reporter Justin Berton writes that Camping “now characterizes May 21 as a ‘tremendous event’ that unleashed a spiritual judgment day, just not the material one that he expected.”

It all sounds a little familiar.

Harold Camping is now pinning his apocalyptic hope on Friday, October 21. Quoting again from the sfgate article:
On recently recorded podcasts, Camping hedged his Oct. 21 prediction - "Probably there will be no pain suffered by anyone because of their rebellion against God" - but he maintained that, ultimately, the end is nigh.
"I really am beginning to think as I've restudied these matters that there's going to be no big display of any kind," Camping said. "The end is going to come very, very quietly."

Camping is beginning to sound a little more like T.S. Eliot than John of Patmos.

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
                   --T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men (1925)

Camping will be wrong again. He will be wrong for all of the same reasons that he was wrong before. He will be wrong for the same reason that every date-setter has been wrong. The bible doesn't work the way they claim.

I plan to be here still on October 22, which, perhaps coincidentally, is the 167th anniversary of the Great Disappointment.

Illustrating this post is Albrecht Dürer's magnificent woodcut of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Last month, the Bad Theology blog chronicled some of the misguided end times speculation that centered around Rosh Hashanah. It is my sincere prayer that we will all one day give up this stupid date-setting game.

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