Based on history, end of the world may not arrive Saturday

By Timothy King

By now, most of us here in the Grand Valley have seen the billboards announcing Judgment Day coming on May 21. This is brought to you courtesy of Sacramento Bible teacher Harold Camping and his followers.

By calculating the exact dates of certain events (11,013 BC as the creation of the universe, for instance) and some imaginative numerical gyrations, the date of May 21, 2011, is established as the day the final trumpet will sound.

I listened to Camping in the early ‘90s, teaching on topics other than prophecy, and found him to be a competent and insightful expositor of the Bible. I lost interest in his ministry after he confidently predicted the Day of Judgment to be in September of 1994.

If you weren’t paying attention or if you’re too young to remember that far back, he was wrong.

We’re not witnessing anything new with someone setting a date for the end of the world. Francis X. Gumerlock, in his book, “The Day and the Hour,” catalogues hundreds of predictions, beginning in the first century, about the judgment, the second coming of Jesus, the identity of the Antichrist and the rapture.

If you plan to read the book, here is a spoiler alert: They’ve all been wrong.

A notable example is 19th century Baptist preacher William Miller, whose calculations for the end led to what was called “The Great Disappointment.”

After a couple of misfires, Miller and his followers determined that Jesus would return to Earth on October 22, 1844.

I’m sure you can deduce why that day was called “The Great Disappointment.”

What is evident is that such warnings never fail to illicit some sort of response. Fear seems to be our default reaction to an impending climax to our lives, whether by natural or divine means. That is, we are naturally taken by a sense of alarm when confronted with the possibility that life as we know it is about to end.

Those convinced of a May 21 apocalypse have a sense of urgency about getting the word out. There has been a great deal of travel, both foreign and domestic, as well as billboards and media broadcasting in an attempt to warn everyone of the coming end.

We can’t really fault them on this point. This is a sincere and loving response to anyone concerned about another’s safety.

However, it could almost be considered an all-in wager. If we’re all still around on May 22, then Christianity will take another hit to its credibility.  Then, Camping can only fade into disgrace or hope for the gullibility and short memories of the Christian masses (many false-prophets have continued to prosper because of the latter).

Some who see an imminent end have withdrawn from any meaningful interaction with the rest of the world. This view sees the world getting worse before the end, so why bother? It’s summed up in a quote attributed to the late radio Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee: “Why polish the brass on a sinking ship?”

There’s a growing segment of Christians adopting a position called “preterism.” This view sees the prophecies about the end of the world as having been fulfilled in the first century, with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70 by the Romans.

The “end of the world” was not the end of the planet, but the end of the Old Covenant world of Judaism — animal sacrifices, an elite priesthood and elaborate rituals. Preterism takes a more kicked-back view of the future. One preterist broadcasting website has adopted the motto, “Relax ... it all happened in AD 70!”

However, even preterism struggles with the implications of its world-view. If all prophecies of Armageddon have been fulfilled and if we’re not going to see Jesus return to fix the broken planet, then exactly what hope is there for the future?

If preterism is true, then Christians are forced to take a more active role in improving the culture and environment for the sake of our future. There must be a more hands-on concern with issues that some believers have thought should be hands-off.

So what if May 22 comes and we’re all still here? There will be a number of disappointed believers out there. Some will feel betrayed. Some confused. Some will grow more cynical while others will grow wiser from their experience.

As for me, I’ll not mock these folks. I’ve eaten enough theological crow in my life that I know not to scorn those who are feasting now. I’ll still consider them my brothers and sisters. I think having this attitude toward the weak will make for a better future for all of us, no matter when — or if — the end of the world takes place.

Timothy King is a former pastor living in Grand Junction.


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