So, it’s May 24th, and we’re all still here. No rapture to speak of. But, hey, it’s not the end of the world.
Now that we have that joke out of the way, I feel I should comment on the apocalyptic predictions of 89-year-old preacher Harold Camping. This man of God, such as he is, has been scouring a version of the Bible (a 23 volume set, I hear) in order to calculate to the day when God’s chosen will be taken bodily into heaven, and when the world shall end. He once predicted the world will end in 1994, but claimed a mathematical error when the end of the world didn’t happen. Most recently, he predicted that the Rapture would occur on May 21, 2011.
Harold’s words were transmitted across the airways on a Christian radio station with a decent sized audience, and then transmitted further as the media got ahold of the predictions and decided to treat the man like a loon. Atheists had a field day mocking the man and his followers. Numerous other Christians noted that most of them don’t believe in an imminent rapture or apocalypse, and when May 22nd rolled around, lots of reporters were on hand to twist the knives in the souls of the confused believers.
Give Mr. Camping some due, though: he’s a committed believer. He and his strongest followers won’t take the complete and utter failure of their prediction to come true as a strike against their faith. Camping now believes that the Rapture and the End of the World will take place on October 21, as scheduled, but that the five months of earthquakes and other natural disasters won’t occur, until the final day, when the world will end quickly. I have to say, as apocalypses go, I have to prefer this much less messy version.
Thinking things over, I have to say that, as a Christian, I feel that I should be embarrassed to ostensibly share the same religion as Camping’s End Time seeking followers, but I’m not. I know that most rational people understand that Christianity is a big tent. Camping is far from the only pastor to have predicted the end of the world; I know of American pastors who have been doing the same since the 1850s. Christianity, it has to be said, has had apocalyptic sects throughout its existence. It has been said that when the Book of Revelation was written, the Beast was initially believed to be a resurrected Emperor Nero. Most Christians today, and throughout the days, however, understand that the Bible cannot be read as a predictive document. The Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Anglicans and the overwhelming majority of Protestant Churches reject the idea of Rapture. The Biblical justification for Rapture (generally First Thessalonians, 4:15-17) is slim and can be read in just about any manner that the reader chooses.
No, I don’t feel embarrassed by Camping as much as I am embarrassed by, say, Pat Robertson. Maybe it’s Camping’s advanced age, or his ability to keep on believing in spite of the facts, or the fact that, unlike Robertson, he doesn’t seem to blame the victims of natural disasters for their own sins. What I do feel is pity, particularly for those believers of Camping, some of whom quit jobs and donated a fair chunk of their life savings in order to buy space on advertising billboards to spread Camping’s message far and wide. Lives have been hurt, and for no good reason. And as a Christian myself, I just want to shake them and ask them, why? God gave you eyes to view the world and a brain to process the information. Why can’t you use the gifts God gave you to view the world rationally?
But there is one individual in this who I feel considerable respect towards. In response to Camping’s predictions, a 38-year-old truck driver named Keith Bauer took a week off work and spent it driving across America with his family, to see sights he hadn’t seen before, including the Grand Canyon. In his words:
With maxed-out credit cards and a growing mountain of bills, he said, the rapture would have been a relief.
On Saturday morning, Bauer was parked in front of the Oakland headquarters of Camping’s Family Radio empire, half expecting to see an angry mob of disenchanted believers howling for the preacher’s head. The office was closed, and the street was mostly deserted save for journalists.
Bauer said he was not bitter. “Worst-case scenario for me, I got to see the country,” he said. “If I should be angry at anybody, it should be me.”
You know, if I knew that the world really was going to end, I think this is what I’d do. And I think that had the world ended, Keith Bauer would have little to worry about on Judgement Day, since he’d have spent his last week on Earth in the company of his loving family, and in a state of grace. Would that we could all be like that.
The point of Christianity, in my view, is that there will be no warning when God calls us home. The apocalypse will not be televised. Rather, we all will have our own personal apocalypse. We are all going to die. It may be tomorrow under the wheels of a car that’s hit a patch of black ice, or it may be eighty years from now, peacefully in bed, surrounded by your children and grandchildren, but it is an inescapable truth.
As a Christian, I believe that when the time comes, we’ll be called to account over the lives we have lived. We will have to look back on ourselves and ask ourselves, did we do good? Were we decent? Were we kind? Did we make time for our friends and family? Did we honour our children? Did we treat strangers with respect and dignity? Or did we spend too much time obsessing with the useful but ultimately meaningless pursuits of money, sex, power or organized religion?
I believe that the message of the End Times is really a message about the end of your time. If you are taken in the moment that you live in right now, can you honestly look back on your life and say to yourself that you have no regrets? That you have lived and loved to the best of your ability? That you treated others as you would have yourself be treated?
One of the best sermons I’ve heard about our own personal apocalypse came from a Catholic pastor, who said that when Jesus returned, it wouldn’t be with a rush of earthquakes and bolts of lightning, it would be with a knock at your door. Your house and apartment will be a mess. You will have on a natty bathrobe. Your hair will be in curlers (yes, even the men), and you will open the door, and Jesus will be standing there, waiting to be invited in.
What would you say? What would you do?
Would you be ready?
“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”