Politicians and political activists frequently declare the end of the world will occur if their candidate isn't elected, or if the debt ceiling isn't raised. Some conservative Christians think the end is on the way because of behavior and practices they judge immoral. Somehow the country, not to mention the planet, survives and when "doomsday" passes, the prognosticators live to predict Armageddon on another day.
Now comes radio preacher Harold Camping, the nearly-90-year-old owner of a network of stations he calls "Family Radio." Camping once belonged to a traditional church. He then decided all churches are corrupt and people should leave whatever congregation they're in and listen only to him because only his interpretation of Scripture is true. I believe that is one characteristic of a cult.
Camping paid for a full-page color ad in USA Today, proclaiming May 21 as the day the world will end. According to the biblical standard, a prophet must always be right to be a spokesman for God. Camping falls considerably short of that standard because he has previously declared the world would end on other days, though the last time he left the door open, saying, "I could be wrong." At least that "prophecy" came true.
The late Jeane Dixon fancied herself a psychic. She made many predictions that went unfulfilled. The one prediction that did come true was President John F. Kennedy's assassination and that lucky "prophecy" made her an international celebrity. It doesn't take much to get attention these days.
The earliest recorded doomsday forecaster, according to Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts (1979), was written on an Assyrian clay tablet circa 2800 BC. It bore the words "Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common."
That guy should have lived to see modern-day Washington, D.C.!
Down through the ages many people have made predictions that the world would end-in AD 70 (a group of Jewish ascetics with apocalyptic beliefs), the year 365 (credit that one to Hilary of Poitiers), and 500, the year Roman theologian Sextus Julius Africanus calculated the End would come, 6,000 years after his dating of Creation.
There are many more of these characters-all of them wrong. A prominent contemporary "prophet" is Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He claims he got word from Allah that he-Ahmadinejad-has been chosen to help end the world by making war on Israel, at which time the 12th imam will reveal himself and create a worldwide caliphate. He also claims there are no homosexuals in Iran. Judge the validity of his prophetic voice for yourself.
Google "A Brief History of the Apocalypse" and be entertained by the many false prophets through the ages.
Camping and his acolytes ignore what the Jesus they claim to represent said about such things. When asked about the end of the age (see Matthew 24), Jesus said wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, nation rising against nation and a lot of other bad stuff would come first. All of these are part of the daily news. But then he said these things are just "the beginning."
Jesus then said His followers would be afflicted, even killed; they will betray and hate one another, many false prophets will arise, and the "Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come."
That last part hasn't yet occurred, though people who study such things say they see signs of it approaching. Consider the futuristic book, Revelation.
I'm not expecting the end on May 21. That's because of something else Jesus said. He said he would return when people "least expect it" (Luke 12:40). By that standard, Mr. Camping is wrong because he expects the end to come this Saturday. And so it won't.
© 2011 Tribune Media Services Inc.
See "Static on the Airways," by Elbert Chu and Paul Glader from the current issue of WORLD.