Harold Camping’s second date for the end of the world has passed and we’re all still here. I’m used to this by now. I grew up with yearly predictions about God’s wrath coming in various horrible ways, and when I was about 19 I realized it was a huge distortion in thinking. (But we’ve talked about that before: the Phase I Christian keeps waiting for God to come show everyone He’s awesome and you’re right.)
This weekend I began wondering about all these dates for the end of the world. Jesus told us not to waste our time trying to figure it out, but people keep doing it (fine, that’s human nature) because there’s a certain immature thrill to thinking you’re one of God’s inside buddies. This appeals to us as a legitimate non-evil way of getting that hit of adrenaline.
Numerology is weird. But here’s what puzzles me: when they come up with these dates, invariably they’re five to ten years off.
I posed this question to my Patient Husband, and he was of the opinion that people do it as a scam. My experience says no, that the people who come up with these dates do so believing they’re doing the will of God. Besides, if they wanted to scam folks, they’d choose a date fifty years off, so they’d be dead by the time we found out.
If you’re positing that the way all these numbers are assembled are meaningless, then you would expect people to come up with end-of-the-world dates that are all over the place: the year 3912 should come up just as often as the year 301, for example. But instead it’s almost always five to ten years in the future.
- add together the days of creation, and
- multiply by the number of days of Noah’s flood, and
- multiply that by the years Abraham lived, and then
- divide by the number of generations between Adam and Jesus, and
- then add the number of churches that get letters in Revelation, and then
- multiply by the number of vowels in Jesus’s middle name
If after all that they figure out that the world’s going to end at 3:45pm on Tuesday, April 29th of 9831, they throw away the page and start over. Why? Because that’s not satisfying. There’s no thrill in saying the world will end in seven thousand years. At that point, you might as well go back to doing what Jesus said and just keep your own life in order.
Well, since the world didn’t end, I’ll just leave you for now recalculating the dates of the end of the world and remembering the four rules my guardian angel gave me:
- Love God
- Do the work God wants you to do
- Forgive your enemies
- Find the image of God in everyone around you, and love that part of them
I think that’s enough for now, don’t you?
I like how you ended this. Personally, I never believed Camp’s nonsense. If we believe in the Bible, then we do as you posted here and practice 1-4 daily.
I knew it was nonsense, but there’s that spiritual frisson of brushing against the supernatural. Just quietly working out our salvation in awe and trembling isn’t as exciting.
I guess I see this a different way. Humans are solvers of puzzles. Some of us are fanatic about it. It is simply in human nature to be numerologist. Chinese, Arabs, Jews and Christians all seem to find numerology irresistible. Here then is the greatest numerological puzzle of all time. How powerful a lure it must be to try to solve it and tell the world all about it. “Ta Da!!!”
As for the convenient fact that it always seems to be in the near future, well, as you said, if it were 7,000 years from now then they would simply walk away from it and not tell anyone. You never seem to get any attention when you yell out, “The sky is falling… in about 7,000 years!”
Actually, I do know someone who will suddenly clutch the driver’s shoulder in a death grip and scream “There’s a sharp right coming up in five miles!”
The end of the world would be a neat little puzzle to try to solve. I get that. But then wouldn’t solving it be a source of spiritual pride, and therefore something that would be against God’s will anyhow…? Maybe it’s like eating from the tree of knowledge.
Jesus: Don’t try to figure out the end of the world. Even I don’t know when that will be.
Human: Oh, wow! I’ll get to work on that right away!
Jesus: No, I meant don’t try to figure it out. Even I don’t know when that will be.
Human: Okay, so to start with, we’ll say every day of creation is one thousand years…
Jesus: Hello? Is this thing on…?
I do see the point, though. It’s the same drive that leads people to solve mathmatical puzzles and, sometimes, get famous for it: “2, 3, 5, 8, who do we appreciate? Fibonacci!”
There’s also an element of spiritual pride, yes. A big element. But the lure of a problem that needs solving can be a strong one – and that drive is far from sinful. It’s a divine gift that allows humanity to progress.
In other words, folks is complicated.