Bad news. The San Francisco Giants won’t repeat their World Series triumph in 2011. Then again, no other team will take their crown. Why? The world will end on May 21. So says Harold Camping of Family Worldwide Radio, a Christian ministry based in Oakland. Camping’s sure. He made computations based on Genesis 7 and the Second Epistle of Peter.
This won’t be the first time the world ends. Such predictions crop up periodically. Those who make them anticipate the Day of Judgment when God will vent his anger at sinners—usually defined as non-believing Christians.
Camping isn’t alone. Millions of Christians anticipate the end time. The “Left Behind” novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have sold over 63 million volumes. Other writers engage profitably in the same theme.
The Book of Revelation serves as the source for such prophesies. The forces of Hell battle those of Jesus. Ultimately, faith saves the believers. Lack of faith dooms everyone else.
Revelation finds a precursor in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Daniel. Critical scholars place Daniel’s origins in the reign of the Antiochus IV Epiphanes (176-164 BCE), the Assyrian tyrant overthrown by the Maccabees. The persecutions of the Antiochus era generated much apocalyptic discussion.
Revelation’s dragons and beasts reflect Daniel’s visions in which horned creatures destroy each other and armies smash armies. But those Israelites “inscribed in the book”—the faithful—will be rescued. Here we glimpse the Hebrew Bible’s first real grappling with the concept of an afterlife. “Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, others to reproaches, to everlasting abhorrence” (Daniel 11:2). Genesis mentions Sheol, the place the dead occupy beneath the earth, but says nothing about it.
Many Jews believe that Judaism offers no concept of heaven and hell, as do Christianity and Islam. Not so. But heaven and hell, reward and punishment don’t constitute an overriding concern in Jewish theology and practice. In his Thirteen Principles, Maimonides demands adherence to the belief that God will restore the dead to life. Not everyone in Maimonides’ time or after agreed with his conclusions. Jews generally hold limited interest in credo. And while traditional Jews have waited for the Messiah (anointed one), they have never agreed on what will bring him forward and what will follow.
Judaism tends to focus on the here and now. The United States would do well to follow this approach in the wake of this week’s slaughter in Tucson by an apparently deranged individual. His target: Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who happens to be Jewish. By concentrating a little more on this world as opposed to the next, we just might cease viewing each other with so much suspicion—as fodder for God’s wrath. Then we might extend to each other a greater sense of dignity and respect. Instead of turning away from this world, we can renew our efforts to heal it.
Because I suspect we’ll be around on May 22 and after. We better be. I have travel plans.