Harold Camping is still here. For that matter, so am I.
The world’s population of Christians wasn’t “raptured” last Saturday night as 89-year-old civil engineer-turned Bible numerologist Harold Camping predicted, which leaves at least a few Christians dumbfounded, embarrassed, and several thousand dollars poorer.
Naturally, I didn’t buy-in to Camping’s game, which is seemingly directly contrary to Matthew 24:36, and I even took the time for a chuckle on Friday when a friend pointed out the post-rapture service Eternal Earthbound Pets.
But sadly, several believers were featured in the media this weekend as having spent their life savings on placards and advertisements to warn the world of a “Bible-guaranteed” May 21, 2011 apocalypse that Camping was “utterly, absolutely… absolutely convinced” was going to happen.
As a Christian, I’m embarrassed. Here at Faith Line Protestants, Cameron and I like to talk about evangelism and our relationships with people of other faiths – opening a can of worms that we don’t necessarily know how to close. But the sad demonstration by Camping and his followers this week has pointed once again to the thesis that Cameron and I are trying to articulate to other Christians:
It’s missing the point.
For all the media buzz and interviews I saw leading up to May 21, 2011, not once do I remember hearing the message of the kingdom of God – the message that Jesus was preaching.
It’s not a message that denies Jesus’ second coming or the notion of judgment. It’s not a message that ignores the need to recognize one’s imperfections, the requirement of repentance, or the truth that redemption is found only in Christ.
But it is a message that talks about restoration, about compassion, about forgiveness. It means restoration for the individual soul and the whole world. And it’s so much more than a ticket to heaven (whether you’re boarding that train at Jesus’ second coming or via the more… traditional method).
As a Christian, I feel a responsibility to communicate to people of other faiths and traditions (including those of no faith at all) that the message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was a message far greater than what Family Radio billboards were preaching. In fact, I believe that when this message is communicated clearly and effectively, people of other faiths and traditions (including those of no faith at all) may even be interested in knowing more. When it’s a message presented through scare-tactics however…
Gabe Lyons and Jonathan Merritt said it well in their reaction piece on the Washington Post’s On Faith:
It seems this charade provides both Christians and the watching world with a teachable moment. Christians need to recognize that fear-based conversion tactics may work on young children, but they rarely resolve rational thinkers’ long-term concerns about faith. Those who went running for the rapture must now sit to wrestle with the serious questions that plagued them before. We must learn that it’s easy to rile people up with future headlines of destruction, but it’s better to inspire people with God’s will for our lives in the present.
When Christians succumb to thinking that sees escape as the answer to the world’s brokenness, we know we’ve taken a wrong turn. Jesus didn’t shrink from talking about future realities, but it’s hard to ignore that he spent the majority of his life restoring brokenness, rather than running from it. Christians often become so focused on the afterlife that they stop investing in their current life. Harold Camping will have done us all a favor if this serves as a wake-up call to Christian escapists and fear-peddlers.
Restoring the brokenness, not running from it. That’s the message I want my life to preach.