Vail Daily columnist Jack R. Van Ens: We’re still here
Vail, CO, Colorado
On the heath, Shakespeare’s King Lear asked Gloucester, “How do you see the world?” Blind Gloucester responded, “I see it feelingly.” Other senses compensated for lack of sight, becoming keenly sensitive.
Unlike Gloucester, doomsayer Harold Camping doesn’t sense gloom about the future blinds him to reality. He’s sure the world is doomed. This 89-year-old founder of the Family Radio Network in California has felt dreary about the world’s prospects for a long time. In 1994, he predicted The End. But history didn’t jibe with this prophet’s timeline. Camping blamed it on a math miscalculation.
Prior to last May 21, when he predicted the world’s doom, Camping spread his sober message across thousands of billboards and apocalyptic tracts. Posters alerted Americans to their springtime demise. Judgment Day would pounce on them, May 21, 2011. When this cataclysmic event didn’t occur, Camping used a ploy to which errant predictors resort. Doom started on May 21, he maintains, but only those spiritually attuned sensed it. Its reality would physically rock the world and destroy it on Oct. 21.
Of course, dour Camping leaves followers with good news amid bad. He expects 2 percent of the world’s population to be raptured-whisked into heaven-while the rest who think Camping is nuts will be left behind to endure tribulations.
When the Bible speaks about the future, we are wise to heed Oxford scholar G.B. Caird’s warning: (It’s) “the paradise of cranks and fanatics.” Those who wrote about The End in the Bible had Semitic minds; that is, they habitually talked about the future in picture language. Not defining in timelines when doom would arrive, these Semitic biblical poets left impressions rather than definite dates.
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Apocalyptic literature is metaphorical, not datable. It sketches impending history, using imagistic brushstrokes. Where does history lead? Not to chaos. All that happens points towards Christ, who’s in control.
Consequently, Christians aren’t gloomy like Camping, who grouses about history. When the end of the world comes, evil won’t have the last word. God’s goodness has the final say.
Camping takes scripture’s references about The End as literal truth. Wrong! Because Semitic authors wrote biblical end-time literature, Christians should take it seriously but not literally.
Those gullible about what the Bible teaches regarding doom accept a bizarre script based on a bald literalism.
Camping’s scenario about doomsday on Oct. 21 was cast in this context: Israel occupies all biblical lands God promised them. The Anti-Christ’s hordes attack. A final cataclysmic battle, pitting good against evil, is fought near Jerusalem in the Armageddon Valley. Unconverted Jews will be scorched in the fiery holocaust. All hell breaks loose on earth. The Messiah floats from clouds. He raptures true believers like Camping and converted Jews, lifting them into heaven. This feat is so jarring that those taken up levitate out of their earthly clothes and are modestly covered with angelic robes. Seated at the right hand of God with Christ, they peer down to earth as their religious and political enemies suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts, frogs and sulfurous burns that fester eternally.
Stephen King couldn’t have concocted a scarier fictional plot. But he makes it up. Camping also fictionalizes end-time tales through literal biblical interpretation.
He’s not the first Christian to invent the future’s timeline. Shortly after Jesus was crucified, believers in the town of Thessalonica expected his immediate return to earth. In the 1840s, the Millerites — who became Seventh Day Adventists — gathered on a hill in New York state, awaiting Christ’s second coming. In 1914, as World War I erupted, a nervous “Millennial Dawn” remnant of believers in the U.S. declared the world’s doom. This group’s descendants are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Such doom predictors are false prophets no matter how sincerely they forecast gloom.
Camping’s devotees are nervous, skittish, fearful people. They live on an earth they imagine is shaking all the time with doom. They idle life away by willy-nilly, concocting “biblical schemes” that are fantastical, moronic and absurd. Moreover, they embarrass Christianity.
Like the Wizard of Oz, doomsday enthusiasts are eccentric Pied Pipers leading gullible lemmings to seas of religious nonsense. Better to heed Jesus’s warning to doomsday prophets, “Of that day or hour no one knows” (Mark 13:32). Instead of predicting the future, tackle life with hope, confidently cope with disaster, and courageously fend off chaos.
This is a script, free of gloom and doom, worth living.
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.