Asteroids! Earthquakes! TEOTWAWKI–The End of the World as We Know It! Both religious and non-religious people by the millions are all in an uproar about the immediate future. Prophecy sermons about the Great Tribulation are flooding churches. Sensationalistic movies and books and Youtube videos and TV specials with “2012” in the title—like “2012-Doomsday”—are everywhere.
You may have paranoid friends and family, who are all in a panic about these things … and maybe you feel a bit paranoid yourself some days! Is the sky really about to fall? Should you start wearing a hardhat or a motorcycle helmet everywhere to be prepared just in case it does?
I might be a little more excited about 2012 in Prophecy … if I hadn’t lived through 1975 in Prophecy.
Return with me to the Beatle-mania year of 1965. That spring, as an 18 year old college freshman at Michigan State University, I married a young man who had a different hobby than collecting Beatles records. George had been collecting religious booklets and magazines since junior high school in 1958 from an organization that was predicting the End of the World. He hadn’t bothered to mention this while we were dating, but shortly after the wedding, he brought home his collection from his parent’s house and shared it with me. The magazine was titled The Plain Truth: A Magazine of Understanding, and the booklets had titles like The Key to the Book of Revelation and The Proof of the Bible.
I was skeptical at first. But university classes were out for the summer, this was before Cable TV and Netflix, and thus I had little to do during the day to while away the hours while George was at work. So I started thumbing through the stack. I had never been particularly religious, and had never read the Bible. But by the time I had breathlessly finished the booklet 1975 In Prophecy, I was hooked.
Author Herbert W. Armstrong (pictured here with his wife, Loma) bombastically assured me in no uncertain terms that I was living in the very end of the End Times. Jesus was going to return to the Earth in 1975 to set up His millennial kingdom. But between 1965 and 1975, a cataclysm called the Great Tribulation was due to devastate the Earth. It would likely start in 1972. My only hope to escape the horrors of famine, pestilence, atomic and hydrogen warfare, massive earthquakes, and asteroids smashing the Earth was to get on board with the group that was issuing this dire warning. By faithfully sending my tithes and generous offerings to P.O. Box 111, Pasadena, California, and becoming a loyal follower of the group’s leader, Armstrong, I would instead ride out the coming Tribulation in a Place of Safety.
In a letter to Plain Truth subscribers in 1967, Herbert declared
“The ‘Day of the Eternal’…going to strike between 5 and 10 years from now! You will know, then, how REAL it is. You will wish, then, you had heeded. I am not writing foolishly, but very soberly, ON AUTHORITY of the living Christ!”
Herbert Armstrong, 1967
Here is a picture of what I looked like the year we received that letter. I was 21 years old, and fully convinced that Armstrong was telling the Gospel Truth. We had begun sending our tithes to Box 111, and expected to be protected from the Great Tribulation. I was going to never have to have gray hair or wrinkles! The Kingdom would come before I was 30, and I’d get a new, spiritual body—which would no doubt look young forever.
And now I have a lot more to worry about than wrinkles and gray hair. I discovered in 2010 that I have a congenital, untreatable, degenerative eye condition that has been slowly and silently destroying the optic nerves in both of my eyes. By the time it was discovered, I had lost 90% of the nerve in both eyes. There is no way to tell how quickly the other 10% may be destroyed.
So I’ve got good reason to hope that 2012 IS “the year.” Before I perhaps lose my eyesight.
Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice …
Yes, I have reason to “hope” that The End will be soon. But I have no more reason to be convinced that 2012 is going to be “the year” than I had reason to believe that Christ would return in 1975. Nor do I have any more reason to believe that Christ will return in my lifetime, or the lifetime of my child or my grandchildren, than did the 65 year old men and women in 1967 who believed Herbert Armstrong’s bombastic claims.
Herbert Armstrong was sure he had all the Bible prophecies lined up and figured out. He thought he had all his calculations in order for such prophetic topics as the “Times of the Gentiles.” World conditions were lining up with his take on Bible prophecy too … plenty of earthquakes, famines, droughts, wars, diseases, moral decay. His reasoning was persuasive. His math was impressive. His constant hammering on how “today’s headlines” almost seemed to leap from the pages of the Bible sounded convincing.
But in the end, he was wrong. Dead wrong, as it turned out. He died in 1986. But not before his foolishness made a mess of many gullible people’s lives.
Every time someone sets a date for The End and convinces a group of naïve and gullible followers to accept it, people make foolish life decisions based on it that can’t always be “fixed” later. Some choose to not get married, others to not have children (sometimes until they are too old), some not to go to college (forfeiting a career in something they love and ending up with just a grinding job). And far too many give all their life savings to some guru such as Armstrong who “needs” it to spread the news of the date.
I’m tired of the fruit of all of this! That is why I am taking a stand with this blog against all the hoopla spread by “ministries” dedicated to pushing the Prophecy Panic Button.
I don’t doubt that things will continue to change, often for the worse, in this country and around the world at a faster and faster pace in coming years. The US economy may fail miserably and lead to very hard times for a while. There might be more widespread wars. There could even be another World War. There will likely be continuing messed up weather, and clusters of devastating earthquakes. But NONE of that “guarantees” from a biblical perspective that God plans to cut short whatever is going on just because we are uncomfortable with things changing from “the way they’ve always been” in our lifetime.
God can do what He wants. He’s in charge of timing. If He wants to wrap things up real soon, He can. If He wants them to keep going for a decade or a century, He can do that too. What WE do with our lives shouldn’t depend on knowing His plans. It should depend on knowing His commission for His people.
Because every moment of every day from the resurrection of Christ until He returns, there have been and will be people who need to be ministered to. There are some people who need physical ministering—food, shelter, clothing. There are people who need emotional healing. There are people who need help to get past anxieties and fears. There are families that need healing. And everyone needs to hear the Gospel! Not a garbled gospel about end times prophecy, or about how you can “name and claim” health and prosperity, or about how important your own self-esteem is. No, everyone needs to hear the simple Good News that is actually in the Bible … not in the pop-religion books filling the racks in WalMart and Sam’s Club these days.
We don’t have TIME to sit around with calculators trying to figure out when our work will be over. We need to just go DO the work of sharing that simple Gospel in our corner of the world and ministering the love of Jesus far and wide.
I’m 99.99% certain that the End is not coming in 2012. Nor is the beginning of the End coming this year.
But I am sure that if you will let go of any anxiety you may have had about where we are in the prophetic time line, hand that anxiety to God, and let Him know you are ready for an exciting year of serving Him, being a light to your corner of the world … your friends, family, neighbors… and maybe even ready to reach out beyond that in some sort of mission work beyond your own circle, He can make this coming year the best year of your life.