I checked this morning on the websites proclaiming May 21, 2011 as being Judgment Day. They are still there; the count down clocks at 0. I wonder what those folks are doing today. What is their plan now that “the date” has come and gone? Will Harold Camping issue a statement or apology? Did he, the last time he was wrong?
Matthew 24:3- 5 says, “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered, “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.”
From yesterday’s history lesson, we know that there have been hoards of folks buying into another’s claims to know when Judgment Day. Another group that comes to mind is the belief of the Branch Davidians that David Koresh was the Messiah. Yep, you guessed it- we can trace these roots back to the Millerites as well.
There are those that are unconcerned about folks who get involved with groups like these; many groups fit the classical definition of “cult.” Some believe that if a person is so weak-minded as to fall into a cult, well then, they get what they deserve. Very often, making fun of these people is part of the disparaging attitude dished out, particularly when there is evidence of a false or failed belief.
Me, I just feel sad for those people. I believe smart and intelligent people can be wooed into false beliefs. And I believe those people, even though terribly misguided, are sincere in their belief, even in the face of failure. I also think that those doing the deceiving are often victims of the flawed thinking, too.
Don’t get me wrong- I am quite certain that there are those that are knowingly and willfully deceiving others. Evil is out there, and it can be charming. It can look good; it can look like good and make people feel safe. It can lull and pacify, at least for a while, usually, long enough for a great many people to get on board and help proclaim its “righteousness.”
Herd mentality is real. It’s also called things like “mob mentality” or “group think.” There are those that will disagree, saying that mob mentality includes violence and group think does not. There may be subtle nuances, but the underlying principle is the very much the same.
There are still others that believe this principle is what we call “the church.” There are those that say this is what Jesus used, and he is a prime example of a cult leader. And Christians, well, they are just cult members.
For every school of thought, there is an opposing viewpoint. We can also apply this statement to Scripture. People have long had different interpretations of what passages in the Bible meant.
This difference in interpretation is what spawned the Protestant Reformation. Indeed, this period of history was rife with conflict regarding the church, and it played out across Europe and England; completely standing society on its ear.
So, we know that different interpretations of Scripture is really nothing new. And, we also know that entire branches of religion have been spawned as a result of those differences. In this light, we can see that folks who follow Harold Camping and the like are really to be expected. Really, they aren’t that much different in their approach to following what they believe than any one else.
And still, I feel sadness for those that changed their lives based on the belief that Judgment Day was May 21, 2011. There are folks that got rid of everything- their money, their belongings etc, based on their belief that they wouldn’t be needing them after that point.
It is hard to admit to being wrong, and harder yet to live with the consequences of the actions of those beliefs. A letter by Tim Dalrymple to Harold Camping and Those Who Expected Judgment Day does a good job of summarizing my feelings.
He writes in part, “When you want to believe something, and someone you respect tells you to believe something, and everyone around you also believes and wants to believe the same thing, those are extraordinarily powerful forces. I wish that you had not believed in the May 21st prediction, because I fear that it damaged the credibility of Christians in the eyes of some. But I see no reason now to belabor that point. Rather, I hope you have grace with yourselves. Those forces operate not only in religious groups. They operate in political movements, activist groups, even in enclaves within scientific communities. In fact, when your friendly neighborhood atheist mocks you for what you believed, you can point him or her to scientific evidence that atheists in general are more gullible.
And you know what? God has a way of using even our mistakes. Perhaps your expectation of the imminent return of Christ helped you assess your life, remember what’s important, reconcile with your brother or your sister, take refuge in God’s gracious provision for sin in the work of Jesus Christ, and pray with great fervency that you have lived a life worthy of the gospel. If you did all these things, then perhaps you should not regret that you were wrong about the whence.”
For me, I personally don’t spend a lot of time trying to “learn” how to “nail down the date.” A few verses come to mind:
Matthew 6:33-34: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own.”
This is followed by Matthew 7:1-2, which says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
And ultimately, Proverbs 3: 5-6, which says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
Instead of mocking, let’s give these folks some grace and forgiveness, much as we, ourselves, need from time to time as well.