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Bruce, Caroline

Harold Camping: Latest Among Many

So Harold Camping got it wrong, again. There's nothing really new here. Going right back to the time of the Apostles, there have always been people who believed firmly that Christ's return would happen in their lifetime. And among those, there have been the few who believed that they have been granted special wisdom and knowledge and are able to tell you precisely when.

I know many, many people who believe very strongly that Christ's return is iminent. And there's nothing wrong with that, just so long as you don't start contradicting Scripture, and so long as you are open to the possibility of being wrong. The danger starts when people get it into their heads that "no one knows the day nor the hour" somehow doesn't mean what it says, that scholars have gotten it wrong all this time, and that they and they alone have been granted the knowledge to understand what it really means and where the rest of the world and of history has failed.

It's understandable where this all stems from: Christians long for Christ's return. They long for it to such an extent that they will grasp at anything, sometimes, to go on.

When I was a little child, and we had to take long walks, I would sometimes ask, "How many steps do we have to take before we get there?" My parents knew enough to make up an answer ... not lie, but since there was no way of really knowing the answer, come up with a very rough guess. So they might say, "About a thousand steps". This tired four-year-old then had something to count, a goal in sight. I would count steps. At five hundred, I was halfway there ... I had an end to aim for. And I think that we as Christians will often ask God, "How many more steps" - days, years, whatever - "before we can go home?" When we don't get the answer we want, we are disappointed like children, and like children, some of us might make up a number and decide that it's true. But because we're adult human beings, of course, it is more complicated; we have to justify our decision on what the answer is, and we do it through incredibly complex numerology that we are sure has been especially revealed to us by God, showing us that we have the insight that history has lacked and we are the ones who will show the world.

My feelings toward Mr. Camping and the rest of the people who were, are, and will be so sure of themselves in this regard are varied. On the one hand, I regard them with embarrassment, and I struggle against contempt. They really do make the rest of us look stupid. Their actions have deprived many of much, hurt many, offered false hopes to cling to, robbed some of their entire life savings, and have probably caused many to lose faith altogether. Yet at the same time, I can see where these predictions are rooted, the longing, the desperation that leads up to these things, and we as Christians are told to be compassionate to all. That's a very tall order, though, and these days, I'm ashamed to say, the embarrassment and the contempt tend to win out over the compassion. Am I any better than they? I doubt it. History will show just how wrong I have been, and am, about so many things.

But there's nothing new here. Paul believed that Christ would come again in his lifetime, and there have been Christians believing this ever since. But Paul also accepted that he might be wrong, and he is never recorded as having "beaten the 'no one knows the day nor the hour' claus." So I continue to be watchful, as the Bible instructs me to be. Christ will be here when He gets here, and I'll be ready for Him. But I, for one, don't have any special revelation as to when that will happen; and neither, I suggest, do you.

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