Saturday, May 21, 2011


One of the few stations we were allowed to listen to in college was Family Radio. Back then, like many Christian radio stations, it had various programs. Most of the students woke up with the uber cheery sounds of Omar Andeel reminding us that the "early bird gets the what...? So come on now...time to get up up up up UP!" And in the evening, provided we weren't studying, some of us tuned in to one of the programs featuring station founder Harold Camping. I confess that even then, most of the students listened in order to find the potholes in Mr. Camping's theology. As Mr. Camping spoke in that low, monotone voice, his exposition of the Scripture was quite lengthy. Why? Because he believed that nearly everything in the Bible was symbolic of something and so he picked apart each verse with painstaking detail. He accepted an allegorical interpretation of the Scripture. We also found out that he was an amillennialist, meaning that he did not believe in a literal, future 1000 year reign of Christ on the earth (contrast that with the widely held pre-millennialist position, in which Jesus will return just before setting up His literal 1000 year reign). Good times, good times.

I kind of lost track of Harold Camping and Family Radio after college, until 1994, when questions began surfacing about the possible end of the world. I was stunned to hear that the procrostinator was none other than Harold Camping! I was shocked. I was familiar with the sensationalistic "pre-mills" who sometimes bordered on date setting for the rapture of the church, but an for an "a-mill" to declare the day and hour was unthinkable! Of course, his timeline was a little different. The rapture of the saints was a means to get them off the earth before it is destroyed. Forget the entire "Left Behind" series of life during the great tribulation. Nope...if a fiction novel is to be written by Camping, it would be two chapters: chapter 1: rapture. Chapter 2: destroyed. However, 1994 came and went without incident. Camping explained it as a slight mathematical error and moved on.

And that brings us to today. There are few people who have not heard about the prediction that May21, 2011 would be judgment day. The believers would be raptured off the earth, while a great world wide earthquake would begin the destruction of all life on the planet, leading up to October when the final destruction would come. And unless you've been asleep today, you know that judgement day did not come. So what are we to make of all this? Here's a few things I've been thinking about:

1. There are 365 days in any given year in which Jesus can return. So May 21 is still a possibility. But it won't be on the basis of Harold Camping's calculations (which I believe are flawed.)

2. The thought of the rapture should bring joy to the community of faith. Instead it brought a certain amount of worry and anxiety. On the other hand, the unbelieving community had a proverbial field day with this whole episode. So the prediction had somewhat an opposite effect than I'm sure was intended.

3. The "religion reporters and commentators" made several errors about Harold Camping in the course of this story:

  • Harold Camping is not a "pastor" or "reverand"

  • Harold Camping has no church

  • Harold Camping is not an evangelical

  • Harold Camping did not believe in the literal interpetation of the Bible, but an allegorical one.

4. Briefly (because theologians and scholars have no doubt sounded off on this in crushingly exact detail), Camping's "building blocks" were off, which made his prediction shaky:

  • We cannot fix the date of creation and the flood with certainty. Since those dates are vital to Mr. Camping's calculations, we are already facing a problem.

  • I've read and re-read Mr. Camping's explanation as to why we are now allowed to know the date and time. I still don't follow it.

  • The Bible does not teach that one day equals one thousand years. In trying to demonstrate that God is not bound by our human constraints of time, Peter writes that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day." It's a simile, a grammatical device to compare two unlike things. Peter could have said "five minutes with the Lord as one month and one month as five minutes" and it would have meant the same thing. It's not a mathematical formula; thus, it would inaccurate to apply that to the seven day countdown given to Noah.

5. I cannot help but wonder what Harold Camping is feeling at this moment. Although many cynics have brought up the same tired observation that "he's just in it for the money," I'd like to assume that he was sincere. There has got to be an unbelievable weight on him at this time, as well as upon all his associates who gave up everything to spread the word about judgement day. We may rightly label Mr. Camping a false prophet and strongly denounce what he has done. But what is our responsibility for those who were led astray? I cannot determine the eternal state of Harold Camping or anyone in the Family Radio company. But there are bound to be "loose lambs" scattering around. What am I going to do to help round them up?