On May 21 I did something I never do at church. I wore a t-shirt. Why not, since Harold Camping assured us the end of the world would occur that day. It wasn’t just any t-shirt, however. It was issued to me by my employer at the time, a national broadcaster. It was issued to all of the staff working an extra shift in order to activate the Emergency Broadcast Network if civilization as we knew it came crashing down because of the changeover from the year 1999 to 2000.
So I wore my official Y2K “I was there!” t-shirt at church that day. After all, you don’t get to wear your end-of-the-world attire very often, right?
Well, I maybe I can wear it again Dec. 21, 2012.
As I investigated Mr. Camping’s claims I could not help but marvel at his incredible numerological imagination. I did wonder, however, how he could claim on the one hand that all numbers in the Bible must be taken literally, yet on the other hand claim that the millennium lasted almost double the number of years that one would normally understand the word to indicate. As a former disciple of Herbert W. Armstrong I found his interest in Old Testament festivals fascinating (and even a little bit impressive, in a creepy way).
His critics were quick to point out the obvious flaw: Jesus himself says plainly that nobody would know the day or the hour. There is not much I can add to that, since I agree with them. Making predictions is a tricky and perilous business, suggests science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein. “Especially predictions about the future,” he adds. He offers a few tips for would-be prognosticators. The first is to set predictions for a future so far away as to make it unlikely for the prophet to still be alive when it fails to come to pass. If he or she absolutely must predict an event within his or her probable lifetime, they should make the prophecy sufficiently vague as to increase the likelihood that any combination of events could be interpreted as a fulfillment of the prophecy. (I say “probable” because even experienced prophets don’t normally get to know the time of their own demise.) He cites Nostradamus as a really good example of both types of prognostication…
At the risk of overstating the obvious, making predictions about the end of the world within one’s lifetime breaks both of those rules. (Come to think of it, he is old enough that he may well have expected not to live to see it.) You can see for yourself if I break these rules in my series on the book of Revelation.
While I have been making fun of Mr. Camping and other prophets of apocalyptic doom, I recognize that there is actually a role for prophecy in the modern church, and we will spend the next few posts discussing the role of biblical prophets in the Old and New Testaments and continue that discussion into whether or not there is such a role in the church today. We’re just not sure yet how many sessions or posts this will take, so please bear with us.