I had an interesting thing happen this weekend while at an outdoor concert. Actually, I was listening to this guy.While listening , a couple of women came up to the crowd and began passing out literature about the end of the world…next month. May 21, 2011 to be exact. Technically, May 21 is the “Rapture” and the end of the world occurs in October. The women were associated with a group called Family Radio, a formerly Reformed group whose main emphasis in the last decade has been numerology. Hence, the date-setting.
People have been setting dates for the end of the world for a long time. Sir Isaac Newton was a chronic date-setter using the Book of Revelation, Neoplatonism, and alchemy while establishing the laws of the universe. Charles Taze Russell used the square footage of the pyramids and Egyptian symbolism in his calculations. William Miller is probably the most famous with his followers experiencing the “Great Disappointment.” From the ashes of the Millerites rose the Seventh Day Adventist Church. There are hundreds of others who have been fascinated with that pastime. Don’t forget Nostradamus and the Mayans while you’re at it.
Sadly, just the few interactions I watched often ended in Christians chiding these “doomsday prophets” for their beliefs and mocking their sincerity. Of course, this was for the purpose shaming them into realizing the error of their date-setting ways. I saw one prominent minister “defending Jesus” with great zeal. Sure, there’s a good chance they are totally wrong about May 21. But that has little to do with the fact that they are made in the image of God and deserve their dignity as much as they next person. No one asked them about their families or their upbringing or their favorite book or their hobbies. Their date was wrong…so they were wrong. Honestly, it ticked me off. So, I decided to talk to them, too.
I took their literature and said, “Looks like you are getting bashed pretty good for what you are attempting to share.” “Yeah, we are but I suppose that comes with the territory,” one of the ladies said. I told her I can’t apologize for everyone’s behavior (though I do that on occasion), but I admire them very much for what they are doing. “Really?” she said. “Yeah, I do. I am so impressed with your willingness to believe in something so strongly that you allow it to impact your choices and your willingness to tell others about it. I’m not sure about May 21, but I do wish all Christians had your passion for what they believed.”
I haven’t figured out much, but here’s something I think I finally understand. Right doctrine is important…but it doesn’t ignite a flame in your heart to where you adjust your life to fulfill that passion. And when I interact with people who have that passion, I know they are going to be okay. Why? Because the same passion that may drive them to a place of error for a time also makes them open to the correction of the Holy Spirit. Of course, that bothers us – after all, they may doctrinally “infect” someone or teach them “bad theology” that we must undo. But I’m okay with that. Here’s why. The longer I am alive, the longer I realize that what I attempt to control is really the Holy Spirit’s job anyway. I can point out date-setting “errors” but what I can’t do is instill the passion of God inside someone’s soul. And to crush that zeal is much worse than having an incorrect date for the end of the world. I’ve made a ton of mistakes in my faith journey and it was in the midst of those mistakes that God could do his most complete work.
Next post, I’ll tell you why William Miller was so important to David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.