Saturday, May 21, 2011

The End is Nigh? I think not!

It has just gone 6pm on May 21st 2011 and the world did not end! What on earth was that all that about? Loads of people were talking about a ridiculous prediction of a Christian broadcaster whom some would claim is really a cult leader.

Apparently Harold Camping who may or may not have some affiliation with the Latter Rain movement, who also quote this date, calculated that the end of the world would happen today, yes today 21st May 2011 at 6pm. Well, not actually the end of the world as such, but something called ‘the rapture’. All the Christians would disappear and the rest of the world goes through a really bad time called the tribulation, so he claimed.

Like most Christians, I do believe in the doctrine of the second coming – that somehow in the future Jesus returns to earth and everything changes. But I don't claim to fully understand what this means or how it is going to happen. And I wouldn’t say it’s something that could happen anytime soon. As I understand it, before Jesus returns there is a lot that has to happen. Basically God’s kingdom has to fill the earth. Ordinary Christians have to live for God so much that our cultures are transformed into God’s ideal.

A lot of the ideas associated with the rapture have been popularised in the Left Behind series of novels. The basic idea does come from the Bible. 1 Thessalonians 4 that says that when he comes we will be ‘caught up to meet him the air’. But those who believe premillennialism – especially those of a dispensationalist leaning - have added a detailed timetable to this. A number hold to the idea that this timetable may be kick-started at any moment. They even point to events in the world such as natural disasters and wars as indications that this moment is just around the corner. If you care to examine history you'll find it's an idea that only became popular a century or two ago.

The big problem I have with much of rapture theology is that it breeds an escape mentality. Instead of working for a better world today it implies that we should look forward to being taken of it. Any notion of improving our world by for example campaigning for social justice or the environment is undermined if we believe that it is all going to burn. Is it really worth transforming our culture if it will all be irrelevant soon anyway? All we can hope to do is to preach to people and convert them to our way of thinking before it is too late.

Of course most premillenialists don’t believe that they can predict the date of the rapture. Though some would say that it is likely to happen at any moment soon. It’s just one extremist that some how has gained the attention of the media that has stuck his neck out predicted the date. In fact I would suspect that most pre-millenialists would seek to distance themselves from this loan voice. No-one for one minute should begin to think that Harold Camping’s view was ever a legitimate interpretation of scripture.

If Harold Camping continues his ministry beyond today and his followers continue then they will need to work out some way of resolving the cognitive dissonance that will inevitably occur. Will he discover some miscalculation, as apparently he did after predicting the rapture as 1994? Or perhaps he will say that the end did happen in someway or that God has had mercy because of the efforts of the faithful and so extended the period. Who knows!

In the meantime I suggest that we carry on in our attempts to make the world a better place – as it is most definitely not going to end any time soon.

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