Religious fanatics are everywhere. They have their beliefs and most are dealt with by simply laughing them off. Sometimes, if you don’t laugh at what is out there, you might cry. Every so often, it can be downright harmful and giving it more exposure only worsens the problem. I think of this past year’s saga with the pastor in Florida who wanted to burn books.
Then there seems to be the odd movements that get attention and I don’t know why. Take for instance Harold Camping, who believes that the rapture will happen on Saturday 21 May 2011. At 6PM. In each time zone. I don’t remember hearing a quite-so-specific time set for the rapture before, but certainly this is nothing new. Plenty of people have promised to tell us when it was going to happen. I wonder why this has got the press it has. There is now a site called Rapture Fail that will catalogue the failures of the rapture in each time zone. Twitter and Facebook have been buzzing about it. And of course, lots of jokes made. I won’t deny that I have engaged in a few myself. As I said, sometimes if you don’t laugh you will cry.
Then my blogging friend Wyman Richardson made me to stop to think with his latest blog post, ‘An Open Letter to the Followers of Harold Camping’. The paragraph that stood out most to me was:
I believe that you are sincere people. I believe that many of you sincerely believe in the Lord Jesus and I believe that many of you sincerely trust in the scriptures. Unfortunately, in embracing the prophecies of Harold Camping, you have sincerely believed in a false prophecy and a false prophet.
Of course we should expose bad teaching and theology where it is (therefore, I am not criticising those who are behind Rapture Fail or any other attempt to discredit Camping’s teaching). But, where does exposure/correction leave off and full-blown ridicule of the people begin? In his post, Wyman shows his concern for the deluded people who have chosen to believe the ramblings of a deluded man – a man who very well believes he is following Jesus. These are people loved by God and whose heart breaks over this. What will happen to those people on 22 May? Perhaps we should be in prayer for them, even before the laughter dies down.
As a post script, I am speaking about Camping’s belief that he has correctly identified the date for the return of Jesus, who told us himself that no one knows the hour or day when he will return. While I do not hold to a view of the rapture and I think it bad theology, I am not calling those who hold such a view deluded. But for an excellent summary of the problems with Rapture Theology, I point to my blogging friend Craig Adams’s website.