This past weekend did not turn out the way we had planned. On Thursday we left home in the early morning hours with the idea of reaching Savannah, Georgia in time for dinner along that city’s river front. All was going according to plan until we reached downtown Richmond where our engine blew unexpectedly. After arranging for emergency road service and costly repairs that would take a week to complete, we abandoned our trip to Savannah and rented a car for the return trip to Maryland.
We were disappointed, of course, as we were looking forward to the change of venue and routine and all this had to offer. I am quite certain there will be other opportunities to visit Savannah yet our disappointment must pale in comparison to those who on Friday evening, May 20, anxiously awaited the end of days when God would call them home to heaven. Perhaps our car breaking down in Richmond was a not so subtle hint that we were wrong to plan a trip to Savannah when we should have been taking care of more important matters at home in preparation for the approaching Armageddon. The appointed day and hour came and went and nothing happened. Well, at least not as far as anyone could tell. I never made it to Savannah, but I’m still here. In fact, I know quite a few people whom I consider good Christians, and they are still here, too.
The predicted end of the world on Friday was the handiwork of Harold Camping, a former civil engineer and self-ordained preacher who is also proprietor of Family Radio International, an Oakland, California based national Christian network. He prophesied that the earth’s demise and concomitant rapture - the return of approximately 200 million Christians to heaven - would occur on May 20, a fact which he broadcast from his radio studio and plastered across thousands of billboards nationwide. We here in America are familiar with these foretellers of doom and gloom and a wide variety of conspiracies. In a recent review essay for a new book on conspiracists in this country, The Economist described America as “a country of 310 million people for whom free speech is a founding principle. So it should be no surprise that it is inhabited by a large number of individuals with some pretty strange views.” It goes on to argue that local and national radio networks and the internet make it possible to disseminate these views to others “rather than just muttering away to themselves” (yours truly, I hope, not being one of these).
So here it is a few days after that appointed time and we are all still here. Now Mr. Camping is claiming that his math was incorrect (as was the case when he previously predicted the end of the world in 1994). He now claims that Armageddon and the earth’s total destruction will actually occur on October 21. OK, so he was only five months off. Camping also assures us that what occurred on Friday was an invisible event. It was the day when God completed his reckoning of who shall be saved. Now it is just a waiting game for those judged to be good and true believers. For the rest, it is a time to put affairs in order because their prospects don’t look good. For them the earth will end in a cataclysmic earthquake. Believers will be taken into heaven while the wicked and the unfaithful will be left to face Armageddon and the fires of eternal perdition.
It is odd that someone like Mr. Camping, who usually advances a more literal interpretation of the Bible, is so heaven-bent on predicting the precise hour, day and year of the world’s end. Scripture tells us what will happen but not precisely when; “but about that day and hour, no one knows” Matthew 24:36. In Revelations 16:15, Christ warns us. “Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed." So, I don’t expect the end of the world any time soon and I am happy that this all remains a great mystery. I’m still here and I kind of like it that way. I hope Mr. Camping doesn’t lose too much sleep between now and October 21. I don’t plan to. But if you can’t locate me after that date, you will know where I am.