I wanted to spend more time on this post, but time ran out (pun intended). Honestly, the wondrous realities of real people got in the way: family, friends, our wonderful students at the Summit Oxford Study Centre. So, I’ll leave this as it is: a little bit raw.
History and Hysteria
Since I became a follower of Jesus in late-1987, I have endured a series of seasons where Christians and others have believed that humanity is on the verge of some dramatic and traumatic event, one that is foretold in the Bible, and preferably ensconced in some vague passage, and especially with an appeal to a Hebrew term with wide lexical options or a variety applications or a myriad of resonances, and most preferably with some numbers (any number will do), and most desirous are numbers that are easily divided by others that can be deemed significant in some way or another.
Oh, the magic of it all.
Were these prophetic? That is the question. Or were they just pathetic? Well, that may be a bit provocative, even if a bit more apropos.
What they said the Bible said was false…false…, thus granting motivation to some who would dismiss the Bible all the more.
These folks may not be false prophets, technically, but they surely are not commendable readers, leaders, or teachers. Yes, perhaps they are just very bad teachers, people we should not follow, should not believe. People whose books we should not have purchased!
Far, far…far too often I find such authors’ proclamations to be egocentric, even ethnocentric, as they read biblical texts, seeing them as pertinent to any and all things American, particularly North American, and almost exclusively, but surely primarily, with the United States of America as near the epicenter of whatever the alleged prophecy is supposed to be on about.
Confused yet? Sorry, but that is the nature of such contemporary prognostications.
A few months before I became a Christian there was the frenzied and fleeting hope of New Agers in the Harmonic Convergence of August 16-17, 1987.
While planets were aligning, New Agers gathered at Big Sur (California), in Sedona (Arizona), at pyramids (wherever they could be found), and at other alleged spiritual power centers such as Mt. Fuji (in Georgia…not!).
Some even managed to syphon off the number 144,000 from the book of Revelation, believing that if this number of people were to meditate during the convergence, then a new era of peace would result.
Dang it. Another failure…and the globe kept spinning. The bills kept arriving. And taxes, oh the taxes…where was our deliverer?!
Well, it gave us some something to think about, anyway. And they were nice vacation spots. And the new friends. And probably some humming (or oming). And perhaps even some ukulele playing. I imagine the acoustics were fabulous, at least some of the time.
Reasons and Rapture
Soon after I became a Christian, it was 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.
Then it was 89 Reasons…, since the author had overlooked something or another (such as nearly everything that is good or true or beautiful).
Then that too passed, with Christian advocates blushing only for a few moments, as life rushed at us all.
Then someone pointed me to The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsay, and the novels about whores by Dave Hunt.
There was a lot of scripture in all of these publications, of course, but there also seemed to be a different sort of God than the one I had encountered and read about in the Bible.
Wars and Y2K
I’m not sure, but perhaps the next episode in this sort of pathetic publishing was the 1990-91 Gulf War, complete oil and Armageddon. A slew of paper works spilled forth from the presses, with Christians gobbling them up like the latest blockbusting horror films for those of faith.
That too passed.
All that storage food eventually passed.
Then came 11 September 2001.
Then the Iraq war.
Codes and Camping
Somewhere in that heady mix was The Bible Code, that wonderful volume touting technological Gnosticism where one didn’t need to bother with the lines of Scripture, just what was between the lines – not the words or letters, just selections of them. Hmm.
Then it was the end of the Mayan calendar on 21 December 2012.
No, it was the Arab Spring.
No, the housing bubble.
No, the bank bailouts.
No, global warming.
No, the next U.S. election.
No…the “blood moons.”
Where is Harold Camping when you need him? Oh, that’s right: the failed predictor of the end of the world died in December of 2013. A failure. A fraud.
Moons and Lunacy
But at least we have Hagee to save the day.
Or is it Cahn?
Oh, stop it! Please just stop it. Can’t we ever learn?!
The adrenaline-fueled affairs we have with biblical prophecy are desperately fanciful. Why not invest our time in fidelity, rather than all the real and virtual infidelities that mimic our adrenaline-fueled habits.
Could this or that government, or this or that international tension bring about wide-scale problems in our lifetime? Sure. You betcha. Absolutely. Most certainly.
But I doubt to infinity and beyond that we’ll find any guidance by fiddling with numerology, or selecting every tenth letter, or reading sub-Christian fiction, or aiming yet again for September, or October, or May.
Nor will using squirrel terms of “may” and “might” and “could” and “perhaps” and “has happened before” to cloak the promotions, as if they weren’t quite false prophecies then.
But the moons…!
When you are a con, not even alleging “mystery” will do.
Truly, discernment is the all of the day! Discernment can be enhanced by a study of history (see 1 Corinthians 10:1ff).
One must do the hard work of assessing personal, corporate, or cultural corruption and decline by reading history, learning biblical theology, and gaining convictions deeply rooted in biblical ethics, or one can follow current Cahn men.
Rest assured, those who are selling millions of books just now are banking on being here well beyond tomorrow.
You know what you’ll find at the heart of biblical prophecy? Look for yourself. I dare you! But it’ll take time, lots of time. Here is what you’ll find, in short.
You’ll find prominent themes regarding repentance, regarding fidelity or apostasy, regarding ethics – the avoidance of idolatry, immorality, and injustice.
Indeed, the just will live by faith, not by the pathetic (if monetarily profitable!) fiction that parades as prophetic fact.
The prophets were visionary ethicists, faithful to God, calling us to share in God’s affections and aversions.
They were prophets, not aggrandizing profiteers.
What does the Lord require of us? (Micah 6:8)
(An earlier version of this was published on 15 September 2015.)