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If Jesus Tarries

05/23/2011 Comments (18)

[EDIT: This just in: Camping is “flabbergasted” after a “really tough weekend.” Okay. I’m glad he’s candid and honest enough to admit that Saturday didn’t go according to plan, instead of trying to spin things in some spiritual, invisible direction. Now he needs to have the integrity to step down, to retire from public ministry in recognition of the harm he has done to his followers and to the faith as a whole.]

This past Saturday, May 21, a major supernatural event predicted last week by Jimmy Akin occurred around 6:00 PM. Suzanne and I both witnessed it, as did many other people, although Jimmy was right there and got a much better view than the rest of us.

What’s more, we witnessed an apocalyptic sign in the sky! Not exactly of the world-ending variety. More like the opposite.

On Saturday evening, Suz and I saw our third child, James Sebastian, confirmed at St. John in Orange, N.J., with his godfather Jimmy at his side as sponsor. It had been raining for much of the day, and before the Mass, walking into the church, James spotted a bright rainbow in the sky. It was still there after the Mass. I took a picture from my house.

Confirmation rainbow

Meanwhile, there has been no statement so far from Harold Camping*, and Family Radio followers are trying to cope with the absence of global earthquakes—and the continued presence of believers, whom they believed were supposed to be caught up to God and thus be spared the tribulations of the coming months. (The end of the world isn’t scheduled until October 21.)

I’m glad to read that at least one Family Radio board member is contritely acknowledging that Camping seems to have gotten it wrong. I hope there will be discussions among board members about Camping’s retirement, voluntary or otherwise.

Some Campingites are apparently trying out alternate interpretations of the event expected on Saturday—just as 1994, the year Camping originally predicted the rapture, was later reinterpreted as the end of the Church age. “Judgment day has come and passed, but it was a spiritual judgment on the world,” says one follower quoted in the above story. “There is no more salvation. Salvation is over with. The fact is we have 153 days, and on the 21st of October, the world will end.”

Questions multiply like hydra heads. If there is no more salvation, what is the purpose of the delay? What does God hope to accomplish in the coming months, if the fate of everyone on earth is now sealed? Are believers now to suffer the coming tribulation along with unbelievers? Are Camping’s followers really readier to give up belief in the rapture itself than in the October 2011 deadline for Christ’s return? If I believed the pretribulation rapture was a biblical teaching, I can’t imagine giving up that belief in order to maintain belief in an end-of-the-world date.

What will they say on October 22? Will they lose their faith? Will they say the world has ended, but in a spiritual way? What will that mean?

While it would be nice for this story to go away, it looks like we’re going to have to live with it until at least October. That’s a bad thing, not only for the Campingites, but for all of us. It’s easy to scoff at the idea that Saturday is Judgment Day, but harder to scoff while maintaining a lively belief that any day could be Judgment Day. Few verses have been more quoted in the last week or two than “No man knows the day or the hour,” but “No man knows” doesn’t mean “It’ll never happen” or “It’s a long way off.”

The pious expression “If Jesus tarries” expresses the right attitude, I think. It combines a healthy admission of ignorance with a lively sense of anticipation and trust.

Happily, next October will be soon followed—if Jesus tarries—by Advent, and we can turn our focus away from failed predictions toward the positive business of waiting for Jesus. Whenever He comes, let us be found doing the things He gave us to do. Praying. Loving God and our neighbor. Celebrating the sacraments.

Jimmy, Steven and James


Have you had any encounters with Campingites? Any other thoughts?

* Edit: This just in: Camping is

Filed under end of the world, family radio, harold camping

About Steven D. Greydanus

SDG
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Steven D. Greydanus is film critic for the National Catholic Register and Decent Films, the online home for his film writing. He writes regularly for Christianity Today, Catholic World Report and other venues, and is a regular guest on several radio shows. Steven has contributed several entries to the New Catholic Encyclopedia, including “The Church and Film” and a number of filmmaker biographies. He has also written about film for the Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy. He has a BFA in Media Arts from the School of Visual Arts in New York, and an MA in Religious Studies from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, PA. He is pursuing diaconal studies in the Archdiocese of Newark. Steven and Suzanne have seven children.