Saturday, June 4, 2011

The End of the World

A few months before Jesus was supposed to return, at least according to Harold Camping, I wrote an article for Northumberland Today about predicting the end of the world. It follows here:

In the wake of the tragic earthquake, tsunami, and reactor accidents in Japan this past week, several people asked me if this portended the end of the world and Jesus' second coming.

I don't think so. Besides, the Bible itself warns Christians that, “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father" (Mark 10:32).

Still, the history of Christianity is littered with mistaken predictions of Jesus' return. For example the great Scottish Mathematician John Napier, who first worked out the concept of logarithms, predicted Jesus would return in 1688 or 1700. He didn't.

About 100 years later, Sir Isaac Newton, the first person to describe the theory of gravity as we now know it, and perhaps one of the greatest geniuses of all time, predicted that the end of the world would come in 1944. It didn't.

The great Puritan Reformed scholar Jonathan Edwards, perhaps the greatest revival preacher and Christian philosopher in the history of the church, predicted that Jesus would return in the year 2000. In spite of Y2K, he didn't.

Many well-known contemporary prognosticators, including Hal Lindsay, Jack Van Impe, Benny Hinn, and Chuck Smith have been wrong about Jesus' return at least once. They respond to their mistakes by revising their numbers and publishing new books or by cannily substituting "soon," for a specific date, not wanting to be wrong twice. Not so, however, Harold Camping, who has been wrong more than once before. He predicts the world will end this May 21 and now has a fleet of RVs out on America's roads to get the news out.

Of course, end time predictions excite our curiosity and unbridle our appetite for mystery. I wonder how people breathlessly waiting for the skies to roll back can be very motivated to do the hard work of loving God and neighbors or seeking justice. We don't need more Christians getting the end of time wrong; we need more Christians responding to human need and tragedy on time. The right response to the recent tragedies in Haiti, New Zealand, or Japan isn't trying to read these disasters back into the Biblical books of Daniel or Revelation. We ought, instead, pray for those nations' relief and dig deep into our pockets to provide some.

(This article first appeared in Northumberland Today. Click the article title to go directly there).

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