Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Harold Camping and The End of the World

Come, come now. You didn't expect me to NOT have an opinion about this, did you?!

I've seen other bloggers (and Facebook-ers) throw their hat into the ring and now I feel compelled. The general theme I've been sensing from people is that we need to express compassion towards Camping and those who believed his prediction that the end of the world was this past Saturday. I've been hearing that Christians should respond in love, without sarcasm or mockery ("like the world".) I've seen nothing about Christians being called to take a stand for truth, however, and address this issue head-on. This linked article suggests that "it's ok to be wrong" about this and we Christians should be forgiving towards Camping, but definitely not direct in our disapproval of his teachings. We don't want to further hurt anyone's feelings.

Actually, this is an issue I wasn't going to bother to address because I think that the Bible makes it pretty obvious that no man can know the time or the hour when the world is going to end. God the Father alone knows when the end is going to happen and He's never given any indication that He intends to share His secret with any of the rest of us. We'll find out eventually. (Read Matthew 24)

The verse that we're all, of course, familiar with (or are we?) that the world is focused on at the moment is Matthew 24:36:

"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

In other words, Harold Camping does not know when the end of the world would be and it would behoove him to stop predicting it. He has now been wrong enough times that you think he would stop. However, despite the fact that the world didn't end when he said it would on May 21, 2011, he's at it again. Instead of repenting for his false teaching and confessing his sin his mistake in mis-reading (and mis-teaching!?) the scriptures he is now saying that he made a little mistake. He is now saying that he was off by a couple of months and that - actually - the world is going to end in October 2011. Because you know that if at first you don't succeed you try, try again!

Now, we might be tempted to say that we should graciously ignore his little "oopsie" and comfort him in his time of insanity confusion. (Remember the professor in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe said that Lucy was either lying about having gone to Narnia, or she was mad, or she was telling the truth. Those were the options.) After all, Camping has managed to hurt a lot of people by speaking untruths. And we all do that from time to time, right? (Well, actually, yes we do.) We Christians are indeed all sinners, saved by grace. We make mistakes. We are not perfect. We were created in the image of God but we are not God (which is why we cannot know the date of the world's ending, by the way.) We might be tempted to rather graciously sweep Campings little mistake under the rug and move on. With some degree of false hope we might hope that the rest of the world didn't notice the billboards dotting the roadside, providing a Biblical guar-an-tee (!) that this past Saturday was the end. How sorry should we feel for Camping? For his followers?

I recognize the temptation.


If you are a Christian then you are compelled to believe that the Bible is the unerring word of God. It is perfect and complete, lacking nothing. It is God-breathed, suitable for teaching, correcting, rebuking, correcting, training in righteousness and correcting. (2 Timothy 3:16) The word of God is living and active and will expose fools from time to time. When it does, should we be embarrassed? Should we run about apologizing that God's word deals so sternly with false teaching and sets about correcting it? "You know, God hates a lying tongue and one that would lead others into a deception but that's God. I'm a little more compassionate than all that fire and brimstone stuff. Ignore the man behind the curtain. What we really need to do right now is love each other."

Is love looking away from a lie? Is is failing to point out the error of false teaching? Is it sitting silently by watching friends and loved ones believe a lie that will cause them to stumble away from truth? Perhaps love is silence.

So then let's look at 2 Peter 3 in which Peter is discussing people who speak untruths and people who are looking for the end of the age:

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

We Christians should be secure in the truths of scripture, studying and making every effort to understand them as accurately as possible. When we are presented with such a blatant untruth which flies in the face of what God has spoken (to the point where most of us can quote Matthew 34:36 without even thinking about it!) then should we sit idly by? Or make sure that those around us understand the fact that no man knows the day, time or hour? No one should have feared or anticipated May 21, 2011 as the day the world was going to end. It couldn't have happened as Harold Camping predicted because God will not be mocked or played the fool. God is always honest with us. It is we who are dishonest. Therefore we are exhorted to remain as blameless as possible before God and an easy truth (in my mind) to grasp hold of is that the world is not going to end when Camping (or anyone else) says. We cannot know and it is very much ok to say so.

The serious error of Camping is that he is attempting to be God-like. Just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Camping is reaching for knowledge that is not his to own. God says, "I'm not telling you when the world is going to end." Camping says, "This knowledge is mine to have." Worse still, he goes around convincing others that it is his to have. He has made a grab for the forbidden fruit and is telling us how good it tastes. Is it better for us to say to him, "Well, at least that fruit tasted good for a little while"? Or is it kinder to say, "Um, you picked the apple, bud. You need to repent because you weren't supposed to do that!"

Now, is a bit of sarcasm ok to express when dealing with this? I think so. It's kind of like answering a fool according to his folly. (Except, of course, when you are not supposed to answer the fool.) In this case, I believe that the Bible exposed Camping as a fool and not much more is required of us in the way of jesting to point out this fact. May 21st has come and gone and nothing happened. The proof exists that Camping was wrong. Now he is predicting that the world will actually end in October, 2011. He is a proven fool who goes on spouting off lies. And yeah, I think he deserves to be poked fun at. We snicker at Chicken Little and we use the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf to make a point. It just so happens that Camping is a living example (who refuses to acknowledge the error of his ways - again, claiming knowledge that God claimed for Himself.)

I would suggest that loving your brother or your sister doesn't mean buying into lies and/or implying that you believe them through your silence in order to maintain a relationship with them. It wouldn't be a truthful relationship if that were the case! Much better to speak the truth - in love - than say that because of love we will not speak truth.

Who did Jesus deal harshest with? Those that went about claiming to possess knowledge of the Most High that they had no business to speak of? Or the repentant sinner? Jesus came down to earth to make the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, allowing us to approach the Father. When a sinner came to him and humbly confessed his sins, Jesus was quick to forgive. But when teachers stood up in front of the people teaching a false doctrine, Jesus was quick to call them on the carpet for their attitudes, behaviors and words. He made fun of them. He exposed them for what they were- hypocrites and heretics. Jesus was always, consistently, very emphatic about speaking truth and truth alone so that no one would be falsely led astray. He didn't die on the cross to save people from experiencing awkward moments and embarrassing situations. He came so that we might be holy and His.

I have come across a few statements indicating that Christians are embarrassed that the world is laughing at us. The world would laugh, and even should laugh, at Camping's predictions. I laugh at the world when they say stupid things. Besides that, "the world" doesn't really need a specific reason to question, mock or laugh at Christians. If any one of us were living a perfect Christian life, there would still be those who did not understand it. Best not to dwell on the fact that the world is laughing. If you fixate on that you are fixated on the wrong thing. You cannot change the world's reaction to Christianity. It will be what it will be. Your job as a Christian is to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12) - not to go around making apologies for other people's stupidity or hiding out in your house hoping that no one will ever notice a thing you ever say or do.

The bottom line is this: if you are a Christian, that involves believing in the inerrancy of scriptures. If you believe that the scriptures are accurate, perfect and complete then you will not fall prey to the lies of Camping and/or other false prophets.

Yes, we all make mistakes and we all sin. Thankfully we Christians serve a gracious and merciful God who will forgive us of our sins. But we must confess them. Harold Camping would do well to start confessing right about now. It would prove a far better use of his time.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9


Janet said...

Actually, I agree that the article linked goes a little too far. I found it refreshing because it was the only thing I read that had any grace. Too bad it couldn't have had grace and truth both. I wasn't endorsing the whole article -- just using it as a launch pad for my own thoughts, which are not exactly the same as yours, but are closer than you might think.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

Truth? Yes! Absolutely! My quibble is with the mockery part. It just doesn't set well in my spirit. I think we can speak the truth in love (over and over and over again if necessary, as it obviously is here) without sarcasm or mockery. I think the part that bothered me most about some (certainly not all) of the Christian response I saw is that it left me with the idea that they believed the whole Jesus-is-coming-back concept is too far fetched to possibly be true. I hope this isn't the case, but some if the mockery I saw did not follow up with any explanation of "no, He's not coming tomorrow, but He could come TODAY, so let's be ready!".

Stephanie Kay said...

I get a little sick and tired of the "speaking truth in love," offer them "grace" mantra. The man is a false prophet. Period. False prophets are not Christians. Period. There is no grace for that. In the Old Testament God's people were to KILL false prophets so that they did not influence other people to turn from God. The grace is not in telling them it's OK its telling them they are wrong. I'm thinking Elisha (or was it Elijah?) didn't "speak the truth in love" when he called down fire on the alter and then killed all the prophets of Baal.

B said...

I read an article the other day claiming that Camping's "ministry" (or whatever it is) has amassed several million dollars over the last few years. Of course he's going to come up with a new date. He needs to keep bringing in the money and avoid charges of fraud. I agree with Stephanie that the man is a false prophet and should be recognized as such.

Carrie said...

Well, I think a little tongue-in-cheek can actually help make a point occasionally. It's good to know when to stop, but I don't think God gave us humor without permission to use it. I think He used it Himself a time or two to make a point and therefore it is permissible.

I'm happy agreeing to disagree on this point, if necessary, but that's definitely something that I think is permissible in an artful, careful way.

As for Camping being a false prophet - yup, I actually think he is. I look up Things he Believes and I disagree most whole heartedly with the majority of them -- including his lack of belief in hell. Very Rob Bell-ish. Very incorrect. So my ability to be compassionate towards his teaching decreases yet again.

Carol in Oregon said...

Thank you, Carrie.

I see Harold Camping as a false teacher and subject to a higher standard. And greater judgment. His words have harmed people.

Annette W. said...

Very well written! You should take it a step farther and send it to your paper.

Barbara H. said...

I agree there is a difference between a false prophet and an earnest believer who has made an error. I didn't know anything else about Camp's teachings, but I suspected he was more a false prophet than a believer in error. I don't see how anyone can have any degree of knowledge about the Bible to the point of claiming to teach it and miss those verses about not knowing Jesus' coming. Someone must have pointed them out to him after his last failed prediction, which means he ignored them (or reinterpreted them, just as bad.)

I do think just a calm, patient, but firm pointing out of the error goes farther than mockery (not necessarily for the false prophet, who is likely not to listen to it, but for others). One Jim Berg book I read says sarcasm came from two Greek words that mean "to tear flesh." I can't see expressing truth in that tone. Standing firm for truth, even if people oppose it, yes, defend and explain it, yes, but I think sarcasm and mockery takes away from it.

Shonya said...

Amen, amen. We must be familiar enough with the Word of God to recognize false teaching when we hear it! The saddest part of all this (imo) is that he has given scoffers fuel to ask "When is this coming he promised?" (II Peter 3:3-4). The earth continues just as it always has. . .why should we be concerned about the Lord's return???

That is a scary, scary position to be in! God is not being glorified in this situation.

Ellie said...

I, too, believe he is a false prophet and many of his beliefs are just plain wrong. Your post was excellent!

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