It’s nothing new.
In 1970, Hal Lindsey and Carole C. Carson co-authored a book entitled The Late Great Planet Earth. In it, the authors purported that the end of the world was near – perhaps a decade or so away. Lindsay and Carson suggested that events in the Bible were actually descriptions of then present-day events. They thought the Bible suggested that Russia would invade Israel and usher in the end times, and these events would occur sometime in the 1980s, no later than 1988.
In similar fashion, Edgar D. Whisenant wrote two books – 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988 and On Borrowed Time – more specifically dating the end of the world to sometime between September 11 and 13 of 1988. When the 13th came and went, Whisenant changed the date to September 15. After this, he revised it to October 13. He then claimed he made a mathematical error because of a glitch in the Gregorian calendar and changed his prediction to 1989. He followed with subsequent predictions each year until 1997.
The Late Great Planet Earth was widely popular, selling over 28 million copies in the first 20 years of its publication. Whisenant’s books were not as popular, but still sold over 4 million copies.
Despite the fact that such premillenial dispensationalist “date setters” have come and gone, a new breed of end-times prophecy has come. Four different fundamentalist groups have joined forces to create We Can Know, a website claiming that Judgment Day will occur on May 21, 2011. While it fails to give much in the way of evidence supporting the date chosen, the thrust of the argument is that the common teaching that Jesus will return at an unknown time is false. Instead, God will reveal information about the return of Jesus to some Christians, and only those who are not followers of Christ will be surprised when Jesus comes as a “thief in the night.”
I’ll be the first to admit, this annoys me a little bit. Not because I disagree with their theology or I think they’ll end up being wrong about the date (albeit each of these statements is true), but because May 21, 2011 is my wedding day. Why must they choose this day of all days for the world to end? This would be a problem for a few reasons. First, the kids who picked on me as a kid (and told me the world would end before I would get married) would be right. I really don’t want such injustice to happen. Second, it sure would make the marriage ceremony awkward. Just imagine, you’re sitting there at a wedding, everyone is excited, and then all of a sudden… yeah, that would throw our plans off a bit. Third, well… just read this.
On a more serious note, I’m pretty certain that there’s nothing to be worried about. Even if this idea picks up steam and these people become the next Hal Lindsey or Edgar D. Whisenant, my wedding day will end up being more like Y2K than the end of the world. Like Lindsey and Whisenant were forced to do, We Can Know will be updated after nothing happens. And this is where the real problem lies.
What do we do on May 22? Should we write blog posts and tweet about how we knew they were wrong all along and they were a bunch of crazies? I think not, and here’s why. To Christians like me, it’s no big deal. They’re just some crazy people with a messed up interpretation of the Bible. To the rest of the world, though, the lines aren’t so clear. We’re all just Christians. When they do something crazy, we look crazy. And when we make fun of them for being crazy, it makes all Christians look bad. We look like a bunch of confused, segmented, arguing, self-defeating, crazy people. I’ll be the first to admit that I wish people would quit making predictions like this. I’ll be the first to admit that I think they’re wrong. But I don’t think slamming other people is the right way to handle being right.
Sharing from his past as a fundamentalist, Matthew Paul Turner offers excellent perspective in a recent blog post. He notes that while they may be misled, people influenced by this movement probably have genuine faith. It’s an excellent post, and I’d highly suggest reading it. It’s important for us to remember that the people who believe these things are still people, and as Christians, we should not rejoice in their misfortune.
So what will you do on May 22? I will be on a plane headed to Mexico for my honeymoon. Whatever you decide to do that day, please don’t poke fun at the “We Can Know” group. Instead of rejoicing in their missed prediction, rejoice that we serve a risen Savior who loves us all, even when we mess up. This applies to all our mistakes, even ones published on websites and billboards.
And while you’re at it, rejoice with Lindsay and me that we have committed our lives to each other and are beginning a wonderful life of marriage together.