What do you do when the world doesn't end?
It's been more than a little sad to watch the run-up to the latest version of "I know when the world will end." Just out of curiosity I went to Harold Camping's website today to see what they had to say about their non-event. They hadn't changed it since yesterday, so it still looks like this:
My favorite part, of course, is "The Bible guarantees it!" There are a great many things the Bible does, in fact, guarantee. One of them is that you cannot know the timing of Jesus' second coming. Yet interpreter after interpreter comes up with some hare-brained scheme for identifying when Jesus is returning, in spite of the fact that he said we couldn't know. One well-meaning friend of mine said in all sincerity, "Jesus said we can't know the day or the hour. I do think if we are paying attention, though, we can know the year." Talk about missing the point!
Nearly every time the New Testament talks about Jesus coming again, the very next idea in the text is, "Okay, so given that Jesus is coming back without warning, what kind of lives should we be living here and now?" THAT is the Bible's point when it comes to Jesus' second coming. We are specifically told NOT to pay attention to those who claim to have a corner on the Rapture or any other ingredient of some end-of-the-world-apocalyptic event. So when Harold Camping came up with all this stuff, I read through his reasoning -- mostly because I knew somewhere along the way someone would ask me what his reasoning was. Here's the basic summary, though there was certainly a lot more to it, none of it more enlightening or believable than this:
1. HC believes he has identified with great precision when Noah's flood occured.
2. The Bible says that once Noah and his family had gone into the ark, "After seven days the flood waters came on the earth." (Genesis 7)
3. In 2 Peter 3:8 the Bible says that "with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as one day."
4. So, in a great leap of reasoning, HC says that the seven days Noah's family waited in the Ark should be multiplied times one thousand years to predict the end of the world.
5. May 21, 2011, is (according to HC) 7,000 years to the day after the flood waters started pouring down on the earth.
See? It all makes sense. NOT.
Camping dealt with the whole idea that Jesus said we couldn't know. He said that applied only up until 1988, when the era of the church came to an end. I could find no reasonable explanation why he thought this to be the case.
What this sad ordeal all comes down to is this. When you read the Bible, don't read your own desires and interpretations into it. Scholars call this "eisegesis" which means, literally, that you read your own truth into the text. Responsible Bible interpretation is called "exegesis" and this means reading out of the text what it means. So what does the Bible repeatedly say about trying to predict the end of the world? DON'T DO IT.
This applies to many other areas as well. What does the Bible repeatedly say about, for example, debt? It's dangerous and will get you into trouble. Yet we think our credit card or our home equity line of credit is a gift from the bank to us. Why don't we read our Bibles and say, "Oh, God already spoke to this. His word clearly says this 'gift' of debt is going to get me in trouble. I'll trust him on this one."
There are so many questions these days where we choose to make our own decisions because it makes sense to us rather than submitting to what God says is true. Sometimes this is just ignorance, like the guy who told me the other day he's a pretty good person and has done his best to live in a way that pleases God, so he thinks if this rapture thing really does happen that God will be good to him. I don't think he knew how unbiblical his position was.
Sadly, others who really should know better choose to go with what makes sense to them rather than what God teaches in his word. This happens most often when our culture has chosen to go its own way and leave biblical truth behind. (Accumulation of goods -- homes, toys, cars, land, wealth of all kinds, is one example among many in which our culture pursues its own "truth" in opposition to the Bible. There are lots of others.) In this case, there are all kinds of sources of information and "wisdom" coming from the voices of the culture that sound reasonable, so we choose to listen to them instead of the Bible. We tell ourselves, "This is just the way life is." And because it makes sense to us, we merrily follow the culture and we bit-by-bit walk away from God's word.