Vail Daily columnist Jack R. Van Ens: Doomsday passes again?
Vail, CO, Colorado
God postponed Judgment Day, which was to occur on May 21, 2011. Eighty-nine-year-old Harold Egbert Camping, a broadcaster on the California-based Christian network named Family Radio, erred.
Before, he predicted doom would strike on Sept. 6, 1994. God judged him wrong then, too.
Camping reconfigured calculations he claims are hidden in the Bible. Prior to May 21, he assured an interviewer of New York Magazine the he was “absolutely, 100 percent positive” that his biblical recalculations were on target.
Camping paid for an ad in The Wall Street Journal, printed the day prior to the cataclysmic event. Sensationalistic headlines asked readers, “Judge for Yourself: Does God’s word the holy Bible declare the end of days beginning on May 21, 2011?” Scattered through the advertisement are biblical verses warning of imminent Judgment Day.
A key verse is missing, though. “But of that day and hour no one knows (except for Camping), not even the angels of heaven nor the Son, but the Father (God) only” (Matthew 24:36).
Camping told the world that recent tsunamis, earthquakes and hurricanes were tame compared to Judgment Day’s havoc. He predicted a massive earthquake would erupt in the Pacific Ocean on May 21. Its force would sweep around the world, destroying civilization and leaving survivors in a hell hole.
He had good news for followers who believed Judgment Day was near. Prior to the devastation, God would “rapture” — whisk into heaven believers. The Lord would carry them from destruction on earth to celestial delight.
Much to my chagrin, Camping grew up in a Dutch Reformed church similar to mine. He left this Christian denomination because Reformed doctrine rejects his complex array of timelines supposedly tucked into the Old Testament book of Daniel and the New Testament book of Revelation.
Camping treats Judgment Day like a realistic Rembrandt portrait. But biblical teaching on what’s going to occur at the End Times functions more like Picasso’s Cubism, profusely full of weird symbols that reveal little that’s specific.
The Bible features a special kind of literature known as “apocalyptic,” derived from a Greek word, “to uncover, reveal.” Such literature is packed with bizarre visions, exotic symbolism and supernatural happenings. It’s like science fiction’s imagery, out of this world.
What prompts Camping to make wrong predictions about Judgment Day?
Terror fills the Middle East. Oil spills pollute Gulf Coast beaches. A hurricane’s fury almost destroyed New Orleans. Tornadoes roared through the Deep South into the Carolinas, leaving death, destruction and disease. Severe draught in Texas caused deep cracks in crop fields. The Mississippi River rampaged to the Gulf of Mexico, flooding villages. Such “acts of God” make Camping and his followers nervous. Are these portents of Judgment Day?
What’s the appeal of Camping’s prediction for doom? When tough times terrorize us, we want to survive. We desire assurance that better days are ahead. We crave hope, not fear. We yearn to sing “Happy Days Are Here Again” when natural disasters strike. Camping looks for a great escape. His answer … Judgment Day.
Michael Shermer, in his commentary “The Enduring Appeal of the Apocalypse,” (The Wall Street Journal, May 14-15, 2011, p. C3) suggests a prime reason why Camping’s prediction about Judgment Day psychologically woos many believers: “For human beings, it is much easier to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune when we believe it is all part of a deeper, unfolding plan. We may feel like flotsam and jetsam on the vast rivers of history, but when the currents are directed toward a final destination, it gives us purpose and meaning. We want to feel that no matter how chaotic, oppressive or evil the world may be, all will be made right in the end.”
When storm clouds roll in, what’s a healthy response to the future? The attitude of a colonial Connecticut House of Representatives reflects Christian wisdom and boldness. Using natural sunlight, they deliberated on a bright May day. Then a sudden eclipse turned their chamber dark. Some legislators, sounding like Harold Camping, said Christ’s Second Coming was near. They wanted to adjourn and wait for Judgment Day.
A saner mind prevailed. “The Day of the Lord is either approaching or it is not,” he said. “If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. And if the Lord is returning, I, for one, choose to be found doing my duty. I therefore ask that candles be brought.”
Those who expected Judgment Day returned to work, deliberating and debating future legislation.
Be diligent with tasks at hand rather than predicting doom. Move your feet toward today’s responsibilities. This makes more sense than asking God to guide our steps toward doomsday predictions.
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.
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