I worked with a preacher once who was convinced we were living in history’s last days. He was sure Jesus was about to return in what Christians call the “second coming.”
In what I thought was a bizarre act of lunacy, he put off buying his car tags, which were due on a Friday, on the off chance that Jesus would come over the weekend and he would have wasted that money.
Well, we’re back at it. Harold Camping, an 89-year-old radio evangelist, is predicting the world will end May 21.
He has been at it for quite a while. In the early ’90s, Camping published a book titled “1994?” – obviously suggesting 1994 would be the year of the Earth’s demise. When that date didn’t work out, he went back to the drawing board and came up with the May 21, 2011, date.
I don’t want to seem overly cynical here, but the additional 17 years did create a great marketing opportunity for books and pamphlets.
Of course, he’s not the only one. End-time marketing has been around for decades. From Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth” in the 1970s to Tim LaHaye’s “Left Behind” series, the notion that the apocalypse is upon us has been a moneymaker for a long time.
It’s an interesting phenomenon to think about. Clearly, the Apostle Paul thought the “new age” would appear in his lifetime. He wrote to his friends in Thessalonica and told them “we will meet the Lord in the air.”
He didn’t, of course, but his confidence that he would is undeniable.
Since Paul, there have been hundreds of end-time prognosticators letting us know just how little time we have left to get our affairs in order. It is also interesting to note how many of these dubious prophets have profited from our fears.
So what is the truth of matter? Are we at the end of history? Has God finally reached the end of divine patience and decided to pull the plug on creation? Has humanity become such an abysmal failure that God has decided to do us in once and for all? Has the whole notion of the created order become such a disappointment that God has simply decided to put an end to it?
Many in the evangelical movement think exactly in these terms.
But I would offer an alternative way of thinking about the course of history and creation. While it is true that “worlds end,” I’m not sure creation is doomed.
We can look back through history and see how empires have come and gone – Persia, Assyria, Greece, Rome, France, Britain – the United States. These are worlds that have ended, and in their passing there has been trauma and pain.
But creation is something else. As we consider the scope of creation – how much time and space God has devoted to the universe – is it really reasonable to think that in a moment of anger and disappointment over the behavior of a single part of that creation on a single planet that it will all come to an end? Are we really that important?
Here’s my prediction. On May 21, the world will continue to exist. And the God who made us will continue to expect from us efforts to create a reality in which God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.