Prediction’s failure raised issues worth considering

Published 10:53 am Monday, May 30, 2011

The news media, especially television, made entertainment hay while the sun of Harold Camping’s end-day prediction was setting on May 21. But they got it all wrong, as Camping got it wrong. The biblical teaching of the return of Jesus Christ to earth is not about selfish escape to heaven but responsible occupation of the Earth. What we are unable to accomplish now, the Creator’s Son will complete upon his return.

Camping’s predictions, now twice proved wrong, were worth not more than passing reference as a curiosity. They were anything but major news, and the public could have gotten along quite well without this entertainment. The media also misrepresented his impact as if thousands of believers all over the world had fallen for the idea. They had to hunt far and wide to report the ridiculous extremes of a few individuals, but they found them.

When CNN sent reporters into the streets around the country to interview people, however, something worthwhile did come from it. They put this question to people at random: “If you knew the world was going to end in a few days, how would you spend this time?” This challenging question gave people an opportunity to think about immediate priorities and ultimate values.

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Predictably, most answers were silly and betrayed abysmal misunderstanding. Certainly, they lacked a sense of gravitas. Others were thoughtful, serious, and even instructive. I like the Dallas pastor who said; “I’m 55. I know that in the next 30 years or so one of two things is going to happen. Either he’s coming or I’m going.”

My interest in these comments is not to preach about eschatology or try to convince readers as to what is going to happen. I simply report what the Bible says, which is what Camping does not understand. Jesus’ disciple Matthew reported that Jesus himself laid it down the time of his return is known only to the Father, and not even the angels (24:36; 25:31). This much is almost universally understood by those who take the Bible seriously.

The Bible teaches that sin and evil are so monstrous in this world that, try as we may and must, humans will never completely eradicate it. This will be accomplished only by the Son of God who will return to earth and establish his kingdom of peace and righteousness. The creator of the world, this is to say, will become its re-creator.

God does not expect humans to accomplish what only he can. However, he does require that we accomplish all we can. He will make up the difference when he finally comes. Augustine put it well: “Without him we cannot; without us he will not.” (How appropriate that one of Austin’s churches bears his name.)

A popular belief of many evangelical Christians is that when Christ returns, initially he will rapture (catch up in the air) believers to be with him in heaven until he returns with them to set up his kingdom. In this much Camping may be correct even though he was mistaken about the time. This was in the minds of the pranksters who that Saturday evening left three sets of emptied clothes on the steps of the St. Paul Cathedral, as if left there by three raptured saints.

Whether there is to be a rapture or Christ comes directly, we are challenged to be ready. We are most ready for the Lord’s return when we are busy living the life and doing the work for which God made us and Christ redeemed us. Regardless when or how this occurs, this is to be ready.

I think of an old woman who raised a family and kept house all her life in a little shack on a river bank. The river flooded and when the rescue boat arrived, they asked why she delayed leaving her house. She told them, “I’m cleaning and putting things in place. I can’t leave my house in a mess.”

CNN asked a little girl what she would do if she knew Christ is returning to earth now? “I’d bake cookies for Jesus.”