Culture At Large

A post-rapture thank you note to Harold Camping

Paul Vander Klay

Dear Harold,

Thank you for taking us all on this little end-times excursion. By today you will have either been fully vindicated as the greatest prophet of the 21st century or your name will be associated with another sad chapter in the long line of Christian foolishness.

If in fact you were proven wrong, I want you to know that I think you actually meant well. You've never struck me as a guy who was in this for the money or the fame. I imagine you really do care for your followers and I would hope that if in fact Judgment Day has not arrived you will do what you can to care for them.

I would like to say "thank you" for giving us all a lesson in belief. In the comfortable affluence of North America, "belief" has become a weak word about private hobbies and notions. Screwtape's complaint about the quality of the souls the demons get to feed upon has never been more true. You and your followers at least had the guts to follow through on your convictions, no matter how crazy it all looked. There's something to be said for that.

By contrast, what most of us believe in is religious fence-sitting. We say we trust Jesus with our death, but our habits of worry and control demonstrate that we don't even really trust him with our lives. We are a lot like Jesus' first disciples, who where surer about believing on Palm Sunday than they were when he was being arrested, tried and crucified. In the book of Acts the disciples were promised boldness and for their boldness they were rewarded with both cultural traction and ridicule. Your boldness, Harold, has been evident, and by now you are either getting a lot of one or the other.

Your little campaign was also a reminder to us of something we usually don't like to think about: That this world as we know it with everything in it - everything we find lovely, beautiful and good - will end. This is a fact that no one disputes. The nice physicists on PBS all tell us that the sun will burn out, or we'll be struck by a meteor or that in a very long time the universe will grow increasingly distant and cold.

Now, Harold, if in fact the dawning of May 22 has caused you to check your math only to discover that the real date is in October or in 2012 or something like that, I'd like to offer the following suggestion before you arrange for more billboard advertising.

If I were to criticize your campaign, apart from the issue of date picking, I would suggest that it failed to reflect the value that the owner of the cosmos affords his property. I myself don't believe that all the goodness of culture, love, beauty, community and everything in between will be irretrievably lost in this present wave of cosmic decay. Failing to fully appreciate God's love for the world, as attested in arguably the most famous verse of the New Testament, turns the creator into a sort of cosmic garbage man whose only interest is in harvesting souls rather than restoring his creation.

Since I know you know your Bible, I'd like to point you to Isaiah 60, in which the kings of the earth bring their cultural riches to the throne of the Creator. You were right that we can't bribe the Almighty, that all we need is need, but I think you fell short in seeing that he is one who reaps where none of us imagined he was sowing.

So again, Harold, thanks for all your hard work.

Your friend, Paul.

(Photo of Harold Camping courtesy of RNS.)

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, The Bible, Faith, Theology, News & Politics, North America