‘Oh, good grief.’ To which I would like to add: ‘Oh, give me a break!’ Why the exasperation? Simple: this story.
I can sympathise with people like Marie Exley who want to get the word out that this world (and, by extension, this life) is temporary, that Christ will return at some point in the future and that God will ultimately restore all things to how they should be. That is certainly a message worth proclaiming and I applaud Exley’s sacrificial attitude in spreading that word. However . . .
I cannot, in good conscience (let alone sanity of mind), agree with the notion that ‘we can know’ the precise timing in which the above-mentioned message will find fulfilment. We cannot. Period. Part of my refusal is based on one of the asinine lines of argument used by those in this doomsday movement: Allison Warden knowingly admits that spreading this ominous message is ‘against the grain.’ But then she goes on to say: ‘We’re hoping people won’t take our word for it, or Harold Camping’s word for it. We’re hoping that people will search the scriptures for themselves.’
Umm, no; you are hoping that people take your word for it–especially Camping’s word for it–because if people searched the Scriptures for themselves, they would not arrive at the conclusions you and Camping hold dear. How do I know this? You want your message to succeed, otherwise you would not invest so much time and energy into it. However, the only way for your movement to succeed is to get people to see the conclusions that you and Camping cling to (i.e. believe to be true), and the only way to get them to arrive at such conclusions is to get them to read the Scriptures in the way you and Camping read them–or, take your and Camping’s word for it.
I especially cannot agree with such things when they come from the ‘studies’ of Camping, who is a known false prophet and recognised for his poor handling of biblical texts. Not too long ago, Camping made the rather bold claim that the world was going to end in 1994. (He made this claim in his conveniently titled book, 1994?, published in 1992). He tried to steer clear of becoming guilty of Matthew 24.36 by saying that the end of the would occur between 05-Sep and 27-Sep (1994). He believes he avoided Matthew 24.36 because that passage specifically talks about knowing the ‘day or the hour’; so if Camping can place his prediction within a particular month, then presumably no one can accuse him of being a false prophet. Umm, no. We still can.
Now, Camping is asserting that he can know ‘[b]eyond the shadow of a doubt, that May 21  will be the date of the Rapture and the day of judgment’. (Now he’s guilty). How can he know this absolutely, and why should we trust him? Because of his close readings of the Bible and his (poorly-based) theories about how the Bible reckons time. I would bet that these readings and theories are the same ones he used in 1992 for his 1994 prediction . . . which failed. What I find interesting this time about Camping’s prediction is that he places his own ‘salvation’ on the line. He boldly says: ‘If May 21 passes and I’m still here, that means I wasn’t saved.’ (By ‘still here’ he means not being raptured before judgment. . . I’m biting my tongue on that discussion).
Thankfully the article (cited at the start of this post) recognises that Camping is not the only one in history who has made similar predictions about the end of the world. Among the failed attempt of William Miller (mentioned in the article), here are a few others: the Watchtower Society (i.e. Jehovah’s Witnesses) predicted 1874; Joseph Smith (founder of the Latter Day Saints) believed 1890 to be the year; C.T. Russell (leader of the JWs) predicted 1910 for the rapture and 1914 for the final judgment; since we’re on the JWs, they also projected 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, 1984 and 1994; the ‘Children of God’ predicted somewhere in the 1970s; Hal Lindsay believed it would be 31-Dec 1981, then revised it to 2000 (for the rapture) and 2007 (for the final curtain); Jack van Impe said 2001; and then of course the Mayan prediction that made a brief appearance in the theatres, 2012. Guess what? We’re still here.
So, while I salute Marie Exley in her desire to get the word out about what God is going to do, I simply cannot endorse the specific beliefs to which she (and others like her) adhere–especially in light of the fact that such beliefs originate from Harold Camping, not the Bible. Camping predictions have failed before, thus making his prophecies false–just like all the others who have attempted similar things. His teaching and ministry should not be promoted; they should be abandoned. And I say this will all due respect and Christian love: if Marie does not want to (continue to) feel alienated, mocked or considered insane because of her beliefs, then she needs to take a moment and consider what it is that she is committing herself to and see if it indeed corresponds with the biblical text and not someone’s lamentable exegesis and poorly based theories. In her own words: ‘if wouldn’t hurt to look into it.’ In fact, I think it would do a lot of good (correcting).
UPDATE: since starting this post, the able-minded Scott over at Scotteriology offered his perspective in his usual, enjoyable and astute form.