You’ll have had your apocalypse

So, Mr Harold Camping has died. Do you remember him?  Sure you do. He was one of the most prominent predictors of the end of the world in recent years. There was quite a worldwide sensation in May 2011 when he predicted that all the true believers in the world would  be taken up to heaven – raptured in other words. This would be followed by a pretty grim time for all those left on earth who would have fire, and plague to deal with on their own without the true believers. This would be followed by the end of the world which was scheduled for October 2011. This was the first apocalypse of the twitter generation. The rapture quickly became the #rapture and Mr Camping was mocked, relentlessly mocked all around the world, not least when the end times did not appear. Mr Camping had the media on his side. Well, he had his own media empire on his own side anyway. He appears to have genuinely believed his folly and committed his radio network (Family Radio) to spread the word.

Well apocalypses and their prophets come and go. One of the things that was interesting about the whole affair was how interested the world suddenly became in eschatology (that’s talking about the end of the world to those who don’t like theological words). With twitter going full pelt, all of a sudden, pretty technical theological words were being bandied about in jokes by the most surprising people.

Of course, some used the whole thing to mock Christianity. For many detractors we are never going to be seen as anything other than an amalgam of the nutters and Mr Camping became symptomatic of all that seemed silly about religious faith in general and about Christianity in particular.

It is worth pausing though as Advent makes its tumultuous way into the feast that follows, thinking about what Christians do really believe about all this.

Firstly – most Christians would say that anyone claiming to know the exact date and time of the end of the world is neither to be believed nor indulged. Jesus himself led the way here saying that no-one knew the day or the hour. However, there is a great presumption in that – which is that there is a date and time for the eschaton in the first place.

For me, it seems a shame for eschatology to be mixed up in all the cartoon buffoonery of mocking Mr Camping and his followers.

Talk about the end times in Christianity is not, for me, all about some spooky day and hour that is just around the corner like a great cosmic bogey man. Some Christians, from voices in the new testament like Saul/Paul of Tarsus to Larry Norman appear to have believed precisely that. However, I think that is to miss the point. The apocalypse has failed to materialise often enough for Christians to make their peace with it and use it to inform the life of today.

Here’s what I think the great stories and images of the bible have to teach people today:

  • Firstly, live as though you’ve not much time left. How much generosity, love, compassion and justice can you build into what you do today.
  • Secondly, life is fragile. Live with gratitude and thanksgiving for what you have.
  • Thirdly, learn the lesson that some sincere, devout, often holy people have got things wrong – even voices that appear in the bible.

There are building blocks for a great experience of the world in that little list. Building blocks that make faith work and can help one to connect to a God worth knowing.


Sermon – preached on 15 Nov 2009

Here is this morning’s sermon:

It is quite difficult to get our minds inside the kind of readings that we get at this time of the year in church. We tend to get readings (and this will go on for a week or two) which emphasis quite tricky topics. In particular, we get lots of readings about the end of the world.

I think this is difficult for most of us to make much of because we don’t live in a culture where there is much expectation of the end of the world. Yet such cultures do exist. I preached a couple of weeks ago about being caught in a whirlwind of a sandstorm once in the Middle East. Once I’d got over the surprise of being caught in such storm, I had to come to terms with the fact that very many of the local people had believed that its severity had heralded the end of the world. Both Christians and Muslims were asking whether it was indeed the latter day. Indeed, in one instance I was aware of them discussing the question together – Muslims and Christians asking one another, what does your Holy Book say? Is this it? Is this the start of the end of all things? [Read more…]