There are several places in Scripture where Jesus positions himself, and by implication, God, beyond the bounds of human prediction. As servants of Jesus we are told to be watchful, but watchful in the human condition of uncertainty. Concerning the coming fulness of the Reign of God, Jesus reminded his followers that “about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the father.” Plainly Jesus warns about fruitless esoteric speculation and challenges his followers to get on with the work of the Kingdom.
This very practical position of Jesus, however, has never been respected by some of his followers who practically lust after the prospect of an apocalypic end-of-the-world scenario that culminates in some kind of godly vengeful justice being meted out in great quantities.
Others of a more secular or even ‘new age’ mindset have recently put their faith in other visions of the apocalypse. The marketing of ‘survivalist’ information and materials has now created a whole new industry. Predictions of the ‘end of the world’ arriving on December 21, 2012 according to interpreters of the Mayan calendar are rapidly gaining popularity and are becoming the subject of serious discussion. This, even though scholars point out that those predictions are based on a significant failure to take very real discrepancies in that calendar into consideration and therefore have no empirical probablility or credibility.
Our Diocesan Youth Movement is having a weekend at Camp Artaban at the end of March entitled “Apocalypse Wow”. It’s going to be an exciting weekend of activities based on current social interest in the ‘end of days’ and will include an overview of the Book of Revelation with an attempt to get to the Gospel message in that text, a message that reaches beyond all the esoteric hype of those who see in it a blueprint for future apocalyptic cataclysm. The planning committee is putting together an exciting experience for the youth of the diocese. Encourage young people in your parish to attend.
After all, we’re dealing with a long heritage of questionable predictions that now culminate in the billboards springing up across Vancouver and the Lower Mainland sponsored by an organization called Family Radio. The message is simple: The Lord is Returning May 21, 2011. To listen to Family Radio’s Harold Camping is to recognize another voice in a long line of of those who have bet on the wrong horse of attempting to out-know God. It’s been going on for at least the last two millennia. But Camping has done it before. His early 1980s book, 1994 (a clever play on Orwell) contained his last set of end-of-the-world predictions supposedly based on the Bible. At that time, notes author Brandon Withrow, “(Camping’s followers) emptied their bank accounts to pay for large black billboards across the city. They printed pamphlets and bought 1994 by the cart-load.” It seems history is repeating itself.
But Christ did not return in 1994. Neither did he return in 1988 when the book 88 Reasons why the rapture will be in 1988 was in circulation. Nor did Christ return in 1914 as the Watchtower Society predicted, nor in 1844 as the Adventist follwers of Ellen G. White predicted. And on it goes, back through the Great Panic of the Year 1000 generated mainly by a Burgundian monk named Raoul Glaber.
Glaber claimed that unmistakable signs of wars, invasions, epidemics and diverse omens evident as the year 1000 approached were all pointing to the end – much as television figures like Jack and Rexella Van Impe proclaim today. The Van Impes boast a huge television following. In the wake of Glaber’s predictions, crucifixes and statues of the Blessed Virgin were seen to weep and groan. The devil was sighted in a variety of shapes and forms, grinning horribly. In 993 Mount Vesuvius had erupted causing great destruction. The church of St. Peter inRome had caught on fire. Even the death of Pope Gregory V in 999 was a sure sign, preceded in 997 by “an enormous dragon, coming out of the North and reaching the South, throwing off sparks of lightning”. (quoted in Rubinsky and Wiseman, A History of the End of the World).
As a result of the kind of ‘Biblical interpretation’ practiced by Glaber and others near the end of the first Christian millennium, thousands set off from Europe on Holy Land pilgrimages, leaving behind their homes, land, families and their work. Camping and his followers will hardly have that effect in today’s secular minded society, but nonetheless they do great damage to the Gospel, causing more and more people to question the credibility and value of Christian faith and practice. Indeed, Christian faith again becomes the butt of jokes, typified in The Simpsons episode, “Thank God, It’s Doomsday” where Homer discovers that his end of the world predictions were off because he miscalculated the number of people at the Last Supper.
But as American episcopalian writer Brandon Withnow notes, “these end-of-the-world prophets are often well-meaning, decent people. The world they live in is less than enjoyable – either becuase there is little to hold them or because it does not fit the ideals they have been raised to embrace — and so they are looking for a first-class seat out of here”. Sad but true, perhaps.
But in Camping we have the latest end-of-the-world lottery tarted up in a Biblical disguise. “Unfortunately, like the lottery, these hopes are built on the hard earned money of the desperate. When the dust settles on May 22, 2011, will they buy another ticket and repeat?” queries Withrow. Probably.
note: Have a look at the blog “Last Year on Earth” run by San Fancisco Chronicle repoter Justin Berton. There’s a video of Harold Camping there, explaining his position. Just google it.
Register your parish’s young people for Apocalypse Wow!. See the diocesan website for details.
Deacon Steve Bailey invites you to join the conversation on nwanglicanblog. What are your experiences with ‘end-of-the-world’ thinking? What are your observations?