Three words - Harold Camping & Rapture: Sound familiar?
Last Saturday, May 21, 2011, as 6PM neared in all the time zones around the world, Facebook and cell phones were on fire with people asking and writing, “You still there?” to “No one raptured here…yet.”
There are no definitive numbers out there on how many true followers Harold Camping had, or still has, but it is certain that he convinced many that indeed, May 21, 2011, was the beginning of the end. People sold their homes, squandered their children’s college funds, and spent their “last days” converting and proselytizing to strangers, friends, and family alike, trying to convince anyone who crossed their paths that they needed to ready themselves for the Apocalypse, while saying what they thought were their final good-byes to loved ones.
I struggle greatly with this end of the world stuff. I admit that I did keep my eye on the clock all day and at 5:56 PM, as I was driving in the car with my sweetie I said, “I love you,” and stole what could have been my last kiss with him. I had also talked to my daughter earlier in the day and made sure to tell her I love her. Because you never know—we could be wrong and Camping could be right, yes?
On the other hand (the hand that is rational, analytical and somewhat grounded in reality), I view Harold Camping as a demented, tired, old man who has no understanding of the serious theological questions that we as Christians grapple with every day. Then there is the part of me that doesn’t understand how people get so wrapped up in an ideology that they don’t truly and honestly question what they are doing. Humans, it seems, have a tendency to always want the answers and to not be content with the questions. Mostly, I struggle with all the Harold Campings out there, because they are bad for Christians and Christianity.
If we want to seriously examine Scripture and follow scripture literally, then follow the Gospels, particularly Matthew 24: 36-44, which reads in part:
"No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. As it was in the day of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the Ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man … Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come … because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (NIV Study Bible).
Harold Camping seems to know more than we know. He now says that, “May 21 was a spiritual coming, whereas we had thought it was a physical coming. But He has come. He has come in sense that He now has the world under judgment.” Camping hasn’t changed the date but says that indeed, ultimate rapture will come October 21, 2011. Click here to listen to Harold Camping in his first interview since...
Camping is not the only one to claim that he knew the end of the world was upon us. One of the most interesting tales of another impending Apocalypse is known as “The Great Disappointment.” This event was also led by someone as unfamiliar and unknowing as Camping. A 19th Century farmer by the name of William Miller, a Baptist preacher, and one who became a prophet thanks to his followers and his delusional calculations, predicted the end of the world based mostly on Daniel 8:14 which states, “He said to me, ‘It will take 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the sanctuary will be reconsecrated'” (NIV Study Bible). Along with Miller, Samuel S. Snow preached that the specific date would be October 22, 1844. Thousands gathered in Miller’s field and waited. Guess what? The world didn’t end then either. Henry Emmons, a follower of Miller, known as a “Millerite” stated after the non-rapturous event:
"I waited all Tuesday and dear Jesus did not come. I waited all the forenoon of Wednesday, and was well in body as I ever was, but after 12 o’clock I began to feel faint and before dark I needed someone to help me up to my chamber, as my natural strength was leaving me very fast, and I lay prostrate for two days without any pain—sick with disappointment" (Knight, George R. Millennial Fever and the End of the World. Boise, ID. Pacific P. 217-218).
Yes ladies and gentlemen, the end of the world ain’t what it used to be. I am sure a new frenzy of Camping’s shenanigans will resurface as we near October 21 this year. And if the world doesn't end on October 21, 2011? Another Miller or Camping will be waiting in the wings to announce a new day and time when our human existence will fade away.
How do we navigate ourselves through this muck that is myth? Or, is it truth? I am the first to say that I try to understand all religious beliefs, I try to understand all theological perspectives, and I appreciate different understandings of sacred texts. Yet, I do have to draw the line when people such as Camping claim to know the ultimate truth. I find it deceiving, dishonest and more, lacking in integrity and damaging to my faith and those who practice Christianity with its true intent in their hearts. I can speak for myself and say that I am not solely a Christian because I am anxiously waiting for Jesus to return. I choose to be a Christian because for me, it is my truth and my way of life. I believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ and I practice His teachings to the best of my ability every single day. I do not claim to know more than another, nor do I really want to know more than another. Because it is from the other that I learn and I grow.
I must ask this last question - why can't we as humans be fine with not knowing all the answers?
I guess I can say that I did learn one thing from Harold Camping—I learned how not to be as a Christian. For now, that will have to be enough, I guess.