We are now living in a post apocalyptic world. That is, if you gave any credence to Harold Camping’s predictions last week. I expect that even Camping was surprised with the media attention his doomsday forecast generated. Main line news programs reported it. It was on the front pages of the newspapers. According to his meticulous interpretations of Biblical prophecy, the world was scheduled to end at 6 PM on Saturday, May 21. It didn’t. And now Camping has come out with another prediction. Apparently the apocalypse has been postponed to October 21. Kind of like a make-up date for a rain out.
The whole thing might say a lot more about how we read and understand the Bible than anything about the end of the world. Most Christians immediately recognized Jesus’ very clear statement about predicting the date for the end of the age. While the Bible is clear that the earth will wear out, that Jesus will return, that God will judge the “quick and the dead” and that God will create a new heaven and a new earth, it is also clear that no one knows when this will happen. Jesus said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.” No one can predict the date.
The fact that so many recognized the contradiction between Campy’s fancy mathematical footwork to pinpoint the date for the end times and Jesus’ simple statement illustrates one of the essential principles in understanding the Bible. Always interpret obscure passages in light of clear ones.
It also says something about who we choose to follow. There are a lot of religious voices out there. We recently dropped our cable subscription and went back to TV programs on the local airwaves. I was surprised to discover we could receive more than 30 stations with an antenna. Then I realized that many of them were “religious” stations, with some of the wildest preacher-performers I have ever seen. Flipping the channels was, to be quite honest, scary.
I thought Jim and Tammy Bakker had faded. Tammy, of course, has passed on. I felt sympathy for her in her last days. After serving his prison sentence, Jim has gone back on the air and online with his own apocalyptic predictions. His web site offers all you need for survival when the tribulation hits. Jim used to believe he would be raptured prior to the tribulation, but he changed his mind and decided he could sell survival items including everything from four-man tents, a solution to protect yourself from epidemics and “Time of Trouble” food buckets that will get you through seven years of famine (for the bargain price of $3,000.) Of course you can also buy jewelry and a set of his DVDs to watch in your idle time.
We have so many religious caricatures on the airwaves and in print that we have difficulty sorting through them to discover the authentic voices. Jesus knew this would be the case. That is why he gave us a simple rule to follow. Check out their fruit. Jesus said, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” (Mt 7:15-16).