Why May 21, 2011 isn’t the end of the world

Jim Reed AP Lydia Mallett, left, and John Junstrom spread the word in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, May 19, 2011 … Continued

Jim Reed

AP

Lydia Mallett, left, and John Junstrom spread the word in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, May 19, 2011 about Saturday May 21st, the day they believe to be the beginning of the Rapture. They were handing out religious literature and preaching about the rapture on the Franklin Street Mall.

The Internet is alive with discussion of the Rapture, which Harold Camping’s most recent prediction says will occur this coming Saturday. Most people, and I think even most Christians, are at best skeptical.

As someone who came to a personal faith around the same time that the infamous pamphlet by Edgar Whisenant was getting attention, 88 Reasons
Why The Rapture Will Be in 1988
, I experienced the hype of such predictions first hand.

But that is not why I am confident that Harold Camping is wrong.

Many are confident that Camping is wrong because the Bible quotes Jesus as saying that “no one knows the day or the hour” (Matthew 24:36).

Others understand the Bible even better, and are aware that the passages appealed to in support of the doctrine of the Rapture (such as 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) do not teach the idea of a Rapture followed by tribulation that is the mainstay of Dispensational Pre-Millennialist eschatology.

But rather than spend time discussing those passages (or explaining the last few words of the last paragraph), I’d like to suggest a more fundamental reason why the Rapture will not happen this Saturday, or any other day:

It does not make sense for Christians to continue to expect a literal “second coming” of Jesus.

To quote Anthony and Richard Hanson’s book
Reasonable Belief,
“An event that has been just around the corner for a thousand years is a non-event. Thinking Christians should not behave as if the Parousia was a genuine possibility” (p.196).

Jesus expected the arrival of the kingdom of God in the lifetime of his hearers (see Mark 9:1), and the earliest Christians shared that expectation. When it did not materialize as anticipated, they found a variety of ways of making sense of that. But today, quoting 2 Peter 3:8, which is itself part of a non-authentic letter attributed to Peter and is trying to address the disappointment of Christians that these expectations were not fulfilled, is simply to perpetuate the problem and not address it directly.

It isn’t just the timing that is the issue. The idea of a second coming with Jesus appearing in the sky is based on a view of the universe, which heaven literally “up there,” that is also hard if not impossible for anyone to accept today without serious cognitive dissonance.

Discussing the literal ascension Luke describes in Acts, Keith Ward writes in his book
The Big Questions in Science and Religion
(p.107): “We now know that, if [Jesus] began ascending two thousand years ago, he would not yet have left the Milky Way (unless he attained warp speed)”.

A time eventually comes when, instead of clinging to older beliefs, no matter how central they may have been historically, it is time to rethink them, and perhaps even set them aside in some cases.

The best antidote for preventing future frenzies of the sort that Harold Camping is generating, is to recognize that they are indeed trying to revitalize something that Christians have historically expected, namely a literal, physical, second coming of Jesus, and to explain why that expectation needs to be reinterpreted or set aside, since after some 2,000 years and in a universe much bigger and very different than anything the early Christians imagined, it no longer makes any more sense to take that literally than that the sun literally stood still at Joshua’s command.

This post first ran at Patheos, a site featuring a global dialogue about religion and spirituality and to explore and experience the world’s beliefs.


More On Faith and May 21, 2011

Photos, video: Scenes from the apocalypse

Under God: How did Harold Camping calculate the Rapture?

John Shelby Spong: Camping does not represent Christianity

Richard Dawkins: Science explains the end of the world

Matthew Paul Turner: The harm that ‘Judgment Day’ will do

Panel responds: How do end-times theologies impact real world behaviors?

Under God/ Twitter: What would you do if you knew you only had three days left? Use #bucketlist

  • annandaledude

    or perhaps world won’t end today because there is no God.

  • mleo777

    Jesus Truly Is Lord

    To Start: I DO NOT AGREE WITH THE WHOLE RAPTURE ON MAY 21st THING.
    Everything you said is Totally Wrong,
    However, It is nice to see that all the incorrect speaking that came from your thought’s/typing/mouth, was about a few thing not just “all lie’s” of the bible (although at least one of your opinion’s on the Book of Peter was total Blasphemy and incorrect) despite they where only quote’s made from other people and their foolish satanic books. You not understanding, or knowing the truth is acceptable because many are deceived by the devil himself and are blind to the truth.

    To address what you said about Jesus getting through the milky way: God/Jesus is the Author of time and it was instant when he had descended to Heaven (Like the Blinking of an Eye), if you think thats a fairy tale, just keep this in mind: If God’s speed was compared to ours (which it’s not) you would have taken more than 9 months to exit your mother’s womb, so far our so called state-of-th-art scientific facilities around the world have been trying to only clone life the past 20 years (let alone make new life) and have still not exceeded or met their goal even though they may say they’re close. Also if we were made because of a big bang like some ” genius’ ” think, Number 1., where did the big bang come from? Number 2., How and Why is this bang so smart and made us food to eat, teeth to use, the regrowth process, and material was planted for us to have technology today? WOW! Some Bang!! Wrong!!! Come on, grow up now, are you people really that foolish and intentionally trying to sound dumb (for the lack of a better word)? Listen, nobody cares about your disbelief, so what does it matter to you that we are waiting for the Second Coming Of Christ? Christ Saved you, it’s time to understand that!! Grow Up!!

  • MadamDeb

    Because I have a test on Monday, asked the student?

  • roblimo

    Here’s the problem: Jesus has been back on Earth and living quietly in Bay City, Florida, since 1998. I see him now and then at a bar called Peggy’s Corral on Rt. 41. He likes to ride there on his Sportster. He’s kind of swarthy, with black hair starting to go grey, and short – about 5’4″. He wears reading glasses. He’s a good dude, friendly but not too talkative. Says, “I tried preaching once and it didn’t end well. This time around I don’t talk about politics or religion with anyone except Daddy Joe.”

  • salomelloyd

    This article is as shortsighted as Camping’s campaign! The Old testament believer expected Jesus the Messiah to come for 4000 years before He actually came. We are only waiting 2000 years for His return!! It may not be today but come He will…! And I am sorry for those who will not be expecting Him to return for them, what a joyous occasion you will be missing…! And how sad that you no longer believe in a personal God who keeps His promises to you!

  • JohnMD1022

    How about this take?

    It won’t occur because it’s all a bunch of hogwash.

    Nothing will happen when the Mayan calender ends either.

  • shobha1

    I was hoping atleast some of the “holier-then-thou” people would have attained rapture and leave us all in peace didn’t happen. God is so unfair.

  • YEAL9

    Mark 13:28-32 = Matt 24:32-36 = Luke 21:29-33

    Another view of these passages: As per Professor Gerd Ludemann in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 92,

    Mark 13: 30, “The saying reflects a delay over the events of the end. By contrast, Jesus expected the final arrival of the kingdom of god in the immediate future. So the saying is certainly inauthentic.

    [31], “The saying comes from the community and is inauthentic.”

    We do know:

    1. The Sun will burn out in 3-5 billion years so we have a time frame.

    2. Asteroids continue to whiz by us daily.

    3. One large hit and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

    4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

    5. Most contemporary NT scholars do not believe in the Second Coming so apparently there is no concern about JC returning on an asteroid or cloud of raptors/rapture.

    Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-5 billion CE.

  • bankalchemist

    There is a post Rapture party at Blacks Beach San Diego tonight with local celebs Pam Davis & Ed Brand of Ventana National Bank fame.

  • julianzs

    This is a pity! It would have been a great helping hand from the almighty to the Republicans. Suddenly millions of unemployed and poor would have disappeared and they could become even fatter.

  • istariphoenix1

    Camping was obviously wrong, and probably a bit crazy, just like yourself. You yourself are part of the misinformation campaign and you have let yourself be deluded by secularized thoughts propogating the idea that faith is proved real ONLY when you see things materialize. You have NO faith, James McGrath. Shame on you.

  • istariphoenix1

    Camping was obviously wrong, and probably a bit crazy, just like yourself. You yourself are part of the misinformation campaign and you have let yourself be deluded by secularized thoughts propogating the idea that faith is proved real ONLY when you see things materialize. You have NO faith, James McGrath. Shame on you for losing sight of the goal, for losing sight of Christ, and for just plain LOSING SIGHT. Who cut in on you and kept you from running the race?

  • istariphoenix1

    Camping was obviously wrong, and probably a bit crazy, just like yourself. You yourself are part of the misinformation campaign and you have let yourself be deluded by secularized thoughts propogating the idea that faith is proved real ONLY when you see things materialize. You have NO faith, James McGrath. Shame on you for losing sight of the goal, for losing sight of Christ, and for just plain LOSING SIGHT. Who cut in on you and kept you from running the race?

  • featherknife

    Blessed are they which are called to the marriage supper of the lamb…..with some dolmas and a good retsina. Delicious sayeth the lord.”

Read More Articles

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

noplaceonearth
An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.