I’ve got an admission to make. Sometimes in the evening, when I’m making the long drive home from work, I find myself scanning the outer reaches of the FM dial on my car radio, hoping to find the nightly Bible study broadcast of one Mr. Harold Camping, founder of the Family Radio Network, and spokesperson for the coming Apocalypse.
A little background for the uninitiated: Harold Camping is an 89-year-old former civil engineer in the San Francisco Bay area. Although he has received no formal theological training, Mr. Camping believes he has been given special insight into the last days, and claims that the Rapture for God’s chosen will take place on May 21, 2011. This will ultimately be followed by the total destruction of the universe on October 21. The May 21 date, according to Camping, is 7,000 years from the day the Great Flood took place. He has devoted the over 150-station-strong Family Radio Network he founded to spread the message before it is too late.
The theological issues with Mr. Camping’s teachings, as one might suspect, are legion. Indeed, I’m not aware of anyone or any church apart from Camping who has come up with such a timeline. Perhaps this is why Camping has declared that the “Church Age” has been concluded (sometime around 1988, apparently), and that all that remain within the institutional church are under God’s wrath and doomed to destruction. Salvation is reserved to those who accept God’s truth as presented by Camping.
I suppose in Camping’s mind, as someone who doesn’t exactly buy into his specific eschatology or timetable, I am among those who will not live to see 2012. (Among other things, Camping is an annihilationist, and believes those failing to be saved will simply cease to exist—no eternal torment, so I guess I can be thankful for that.) Still, I find myself strangely drawn to the man. His slow, measured, and deliberate speaking style is the very antithesis of the stereotypical “fire and brimstone” preacher. The simple cadence is almost hypnotic—he sounds like a slightly older version of the old Saturday Night Live character Stuart Smalley. And he seems to sincerely lament the fate of those not in his little fold of believers. (He talks about immediate family members who remain in their church bodies, and are thus subject to God’s judgment.) He seems absolutely and completely convinced that the events he predicts will occur just as he envisions them—and this despite the fact that he had previously made the same prediction for October of 1994.
Truth be told, I feel more than a little sympathy for Camping and his followers. Who knows how many of these have chosen to rid themselves of all earthly duties or possessions as the final day approaches? What are they likely to feel should they awake on May 22? Fear? Disillusionment? Uncertainty? Anger? One would have to imagine, all this and more.
And what of Camping himself? If his message fails to be fulfilled on May 21, will he dismiss it as a miscalculation, or will he see it as a refutation of all that he has proclaimed? Should God in His mercy grant us days beyond those seen by Mr. Camping, one would hope His Church would extend that grace to Camping and his supporters.