Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Don't They Know It's Not the End of the World?

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.


  1. Wonderful last line (and the second to last)!

    (I'd be fine putting my name on this comment, but I'm just too lazy to not make it anonymous.)

  2. Hey, Anonymous. Wasn't it work to say that you were too lazy than to just put your name?

  3. My sister questioned what would happen to Christianity if the world DOESN'T end on Saturday. She asked, does it mean that Christianity is all wrong? I told her that it doesn't mean that at all, and that most of Christianity believes in what Matthew wrote in his Gospel, that we don't know the day or the time (and even the angels and Christ are left in the dark on that info). So, it will only be those who are adamant about these dates who will be disappointed and perhaps might question their faith.

    That being said, I've been joking with many of my friends about it lately, but definitely don't believe it. But, it's definitely a good reminder to live each day as if it were our last.

  4. Yeah, most Christians think that these people are nuts. The problem is that a lot of non-Christians think that these people represent the rest of us.


  5. Well, we're still going to plant a tree at church on Saturday...Pastor said it's attributed to Martin Luther - that when asked what he would do if he found that the world would end today, and he said he'd plant a tree because he was going to do that anyway today. Not sure if it *was* Luther, but the sentiment prompted us to get a tree to plant.

  6. I've run and down my credit card with or without the threat of impending doom. I remember drills that we did in case of nuclear attack. Duck and cover and marching to a fallout shelter in the basement of Nassua School. Those of us born in the 50's and coming of age in 60' and 70's have lived with the SWORD OF DAMOCLES above our heads for a lifetime. End of the world? big deal not worth getting the T shirt. Now living as loving person in this crazy world thats the hard task.

  7. Keith,
    when I saw this post I wanted to comment re "Those who believed will find their faith to be severely shaken, and they will likely question everything they’ve ever learned." - in fact I wrote a response but my browser ate it up. :(

    Now Phil Plait, aka The Bad Astronomer, has summed it up much better than I could. Like him (if I may say so), I did not think for a moment that those people's faith or beliefs will be shaken in any way. The mind of the "committed believer" has powerful ways of protecting itself against facts. More here: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/05/24/unraptured-part-ii-the-rationalizationing/

  8. Thanks Yuval, you make an excellent point, and one well worth looking into in a future blog post about all kinds of "true believers." People like the Obama "birthers," the ones who believe that all the moon landings were faked, the ones who believe that FDR allowed the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor so we could enter WWII, etc. And how no amount of rational argument will dissuade them from what they "know" to be true.