Back in 1988, right around the time Cheryl and I were getting married, a pamphlet hit a lot of the religious bookstores across the country. It was written by Edgar Whisenant, a Bible student and former NASA engineer, and titled 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. He was so sure of his calculations that the world as we knew it would end during Rosh Hashanah of that year that he said, “Only if the Bible is in error, am I wrong…”
His predictions were taken seriously by many in the Evangelical community, and as the date approached, regular programming on the Trinity Broadcasting Network was interrupted with special instructions on how to prepare for the great event.
And all this despite the fact that Jesus said in Matthew 24:36 that no one will know the date or time of his return. Of course, Whisenant and his followers had an answer for this: they only knew the rough date, he didn’t give the exact hour.
I don’t think I need to tell you that he was wrong.
Undaunted, he revised his predictions, covering himself by saying that he had made an error because of a fluke in the Gregorian calendar, and that the Rapture was really going to occur in 1989.
And 1990, 91, 92, 93, and so on.
This wasn’t the first time that fellow Christians have predicted the end of the world, and obviously, it wasn’t the first time they had gotten it wrong. Saint Paul himself felt the end was imminent, there were predictions that the world would end as the year 1000 approached (something about that nice round number), and most of us remember how neatly the whole Y2K computer issue tied in with predictions that the world would end.
And now Harold Camping says that Judgment Day and the End of the World will happen this weekend – on May 21.
Here we go again.
What is it about some of us that we are attracted to the latest prediction about the Second Coming, the Rapture, the End of the World, whatever? And especially those of us who listen to people who are supposed to know better, people who are supposed to know that no one will know the date or time, but keep coming up with reasons why they know it?
And why do these people go on making the rest of us Christians look like idiots?
William Miller and Samuel Snow preached that Jesus would return to earth on October 22, 1844. When October 22 came and went, followed by the 23rd, 24th, 25th, and so on, the period afterward became known as the Great Disappointment, which was marked not only by the obvious disappointment of the “true believers,” but also by them being held up to ridicule by the rest of the population.
As much as I believe that Camping is wrong, I really don’t want to gloat when what I believe is the inevitable Great Disappointment of 2011 arrives on Sunday. Those who believed will find their faith to be severely shaken, and they will likely question everything they’ve ever learned. Instead of this being a time for the rest of us Christians to gloat at how gullible they were, it should be seen as an opportunity to minister to the disappointed.
It should also, however, be a reminder to all of us that we are to try to live every day as if it would be our last.
And no, that doesn’t mean running up the credit card bill.