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20 May 2011

The Power of Metaphors II (Doomsday Prophecies)

We might overlook it when seminarians don't "get" metaphors (see my last post), but what if a grown man doesn't get it and tries to tease literal meanings out of a metaphor? The metaphor in question is found in Second Peter, a verse echoing Psalm 90:

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day [is] with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 

Instead of enjoying the beautiful metaphor, an 89 year old prophet of doom named Harold Camping began a set of complicated calculations, and when he was done, he predicted that the end of the world will be here on May 21, 2011 at 6pm.

I know of at least one person who, when learning about Mr. Camping's predictions, withdrew all his funds and took off for parts unknown. But let's see ... other such predictions were made for 1844, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1942, 1981, 1983, 1988, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2012 and 2060.  Last time I checked, we and our messy beloved world are still here.

When at mid-day May 19, 1780 an inky darkness descended on Connecticut, so dark that birds retired to their nests and residents lit candles, citizens reached for an explanation in the source they knew best, the Bible. Now understood to have been a perfect storm of smoke and cloud cover, back then many people were convinced that it had to be Judgment Day. The countryside experienced a bit of a panic – save for one Connecticut legislator, Abraham Davenport, a Stamford legislator who said that if Jesus was coming, he preferred to be found working. Davenport asked for candles, and the Senate kept working through the gloom.

Martin Luther is reported to have said, "Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree".

- It's time to realize that doomsday predictions are nothing new under the sun.
- It's time to remember that talk about the "rapture" is not Biblical, and that millenialists and their calculations belong into the fiction section of your local bookstore.
- It's time to remember that Jesus said that not even he was privy to the date and time of the end.

The opposite of faith is fear, and fear-mongers always make money simply because people long for some measure of certainty.  Not only did Mr. Camping "earn" about 100 Million Dollars, he frightened a few drifting souls very badly: think of the mother who tried to slit her children's throats with a boxcutter, and the folks who said they were going to euthanize their pets before that 6pm deadline.

As the children of God, we have nothing to fear; uncertainty is part of life. With Martin Luther and Abraham Davenport, I intend to relax.  I will look forward to a beautiful new day, a day full of adventures, a day full of chances to meet God on the road.

2 Peter 3:8

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