I've seen the news scuttling about the internet. I even saw a billboard proclaiming the news down in Oregon last weekend. But now letters are beginning to show up.
In yesterday's mail, our church received a very official, earnest-sounding pamphlet declaring that, without a doubt, Jesus is coming back on May 21, 2011. Because, in fact, the Bible teaches that Jesus is coming back on May 21, 2011.
Well, no, it doesn't. There is no chapter and verse you can look to that will say "and Jesus shall return on May 21, 2011 A.D. according to the Gregorian Calendar." But these fine folks have put all the clues together and arrived at the definitive conclusion that that is, indeed, the Day of Judgment.
By the way, I should point out that this particular letter is a secondary source. The primary source of this revelation is one Harold Camping of Family Radio fame. This letter came from a church in Pennsylvania, who are quick to point out that they are in no way affiliated with Family Radio. They just happen to believe everything he's selling.
So let me step up to the microphone for a moment and make a declaration for all my friends, Christian and non-Christian alike: These people do not speak for me. In fact, they don't speak for the Church at all. Any more than Osama bin Laden spoke for Muslims. Or Miley Cyrus speaks for Rock Stars. They may think they do, they may earnestly believe they are speaking on behalf of the Church, but in reality, they're a fringe group that really does nothing but make everybody else look bad.
For what it's worth, Harold has done this before. Predicted the end, I mean. And he's been wrong before, obviously. Just like he'll be wrong this time. We'll all wake up on May 22 and these people will be sad, but rather than admit their wrongness, they'll make up some excuses and scurry back to their study rooms where they will try to pick the next can't-miss date.
What it really comes down to is how they treat the text. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn't come with an owners' manual, which leaves room for all sorts of people to read the texts in ways they weren't meant to be read. These particular people approach the text the way Nicolas Cage approached a treasure hunt in National Treasure. Find a clue here, uncover a clue there, discern the hidden super-secret message under that thing, and voila! You uncover the treasure trove. So they pick a verse here and a verse there, apply some really bad science, and voila! discover the date.
Here's the real difficulty with proof-texting. Camping and his followers point to verses like Isaiah 56:10-11 to show why people like me (pastors) don't know what we're talking about when we challenge them. "His watchmen are blind; they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark. . .they are shepherds that cannot understand. . ." Oooh. That sounds bad.
But I could just as easily point our Jeremiah 23:26 to challenge their authority: "How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own mind?"
And on it goes, my prooftext against your prooftext, and none of us gets anywhere.
For now, I'm content to sit around and wait until May 22, when the world will see they were wrong. Although it grieves me to think of the money and resources wasted to this lie. And I grieve the faith of so many that will be lost when May 22 dawns, a faith that will probably be replaced with cynicism and doubt. And, of course, I grieve that these people give the rest of us in Christendom a bad name. Which is why I repeat: they don't speak for me. The don't speak for most of us.
In the meantime, it should be pointed out that Jesus' message was never about figuring the day of his return. It was always "be about my work until I get back." And that work was not proclaiming judgement. It was more important stuff like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, taking care of the elderly, protecting children from exploitation, loving the alien in our midst, pursuing justice and righteousness, living lives of honesty and simplicity and compassion. That's the point of the text.