Rapture Prediction Provides Food for Thought

By Jennifer Willis
Communications Staff

“Judgment Day Is Coming! The Rapture: May 21, 2011.”

No, it’s not a teaser for the next Will Smith blockbuster. It’s a billboard at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Camelback Road. Maybe you’ve seen it or one like it. They’ve popped up in cities around the country, proclaiming this Saturday as the day life on Earth as we know it will cease to exist. 

May 21 is the date that Harold Camping, president of the California-based Family Radio Network, has said will coincide with the Rapture — when all are judged by God and those who are worthy will be taken away and saved. Those who aren’t saved, Camping says, will be left behind on Earth to suffer before the world ends in October. (Family Radio Network is not to be confused with Family Life Radio, which does not endorse Camping’s prediction.)

While it seems easy to mock people predicting the end of the world, Campus Pastor Tim Griffin says Christians shouldn’t be critical of them. The Bible does talk about redemption and the remaking of the world, and it also talks about what those final days will be like.

What is risky and foolish, Griffin says, is when people begin to name a specific date and time. He cites the words of Jesus in Matthew 24:36 (NIV): “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Throughout history, there have been people claiming to know when the world will end. Griffin says it usually happens in times of turmoil represented by economic strife, tensions of war and natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.

“People begin to ask God if these things are a precursor of what is to come,” he says. “But while the Bible gives us hints as to what the end of days might be like, there is no way we can know or predict when that day will be.”

GCU English Professor Jim Helfers agrees.

“Doomsday predictions are not new,” he says. “In times of chaos and natural disaster, people tend to look for an explanation.”

Helfers notes that World Wars I and II stirred considerable end-of-the-world speculation, as did Y2K.

“And Christians aren’t the only ones,” he says. “Most cultures have some sort of apocalyptic idea. Humans tend to think of history as very linear with a beginning, middle and an end.”

But why is so much media attention given to predictions when the Bible clearly tells us that we can’t know?

Helfers thinks it comes down to a fascination with disaster and the end of things. It’s why we watch movies such as “Independence Day” and “Armageddon” and turn them into multimillion-dollar blockbusters.

“People also have a tendency to look to the past as being better than the now,” he says. “Greek mythology and legend refers to four or five Ages of Man, in which the first age is Golden followed by the Silver, Bronze and Iron Ages — and then the present, a period of decline.”

Another explanation could be a fascination with basic world-view questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? There seems to be a never-ending search for hidden meanings and conspiracy theories.

Philosophy and Christian Studies Professor Sanjay Merchant says that those looking for hidden meanings in the Bible raise red flags.

“Camping himself has admitted that the average everyday Bible reader would not be able to figure this out,” Merchant says. “He claims to have been given some divine revelation allowing him to be able to read between the lines and decipher this date.

“But I would like to point out that God gave us the Bible for understanding, not to confuse or hide things in. To claim that there are hidden meanings that only a select few can understand with divine revelation is arrogant and insulting to God. It’s like calling God deceptive and a liar.”

It’s best to be prepared for the world’s end, Helfers says, but not preoccupied by it.

“If you are ready, then it doesn’t matter if the end is May 21, 2011, or if it is 10 years from now,” he says.

What about those who believe in the May 21 date but are still here on May 22?

Merchant hopes that they don’t become spiritually disillusioned, thinking God has let them down.

“Clear-thinking Bible readers need to walk them through the Bible and help them come to terms with the parts of the (Camping) prediction that were weird and didn’t make much sense,” he says. “Christians need to rely on each other and help each other look for future red flags such as lone guns like Camping.”

Griffin says such forecasts can provide a wakeup call even for those who don’t put stock in them.

“Let’s live our lives and focus on more reliable things,” he says. “There’s always a chance that men will let us down and the promises of human beings will fail. But God’s promises will never fail. So keep your eyes on Jesus and live every day to the fullest.”

Reach Jennifer Willis at 639.7383 or [email protected].

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