I’m not embarrassed by Harold Camping. I don’t find it ridiculous that he thought he’d be raptured on May 21 or that people believed him. And I don’t think the biggest lesson we have to learn from all this is not to trust people who say they know when the world will end.
Ever since Harold Camping and company gained national exposure, most evangelicals have been eager to distance ourselves from him and our faith from his. We use words like “embarrassment” to show that we recognize his wrongness and take no part in it. We speak of being concerned that Camping and his listeners will make Christianity look foolish, that he will give people one more reason to reject the faith that has, in recent years, not done so well in the American media.
But we can learn something much deeper from Harold Camping than to not be taken in, to shelter ourselves from the embarrassment of being wrong. Deeper than accepting at face value Jesus’ words that no one knows the day or the hour of his return. We can learn to flee the pride that threatens to destroy us in all our being right about Camping’s being wrong. We can learn to accept Harold Camping as one of our own without qualification, as a person who loves Jesus and who frankly just has a flawed approach to the Bible. We can learn that God is not interested in our saving face.
Christianity will not be destroyed by Christians looking foolish. Some will always find a crucified Christ foolish. But Christians will be destroyed by foolishly failing to name and reject the pride that keeps us in bondage to maintaining our public image. We are in far greater danger of failing to love one another—the love by which Jesus said we would be recognized—than we are of failing to appear wise and rational.
Image-wise, we have nothing to lose from embracing Harold Camping, because nothing–image-wise–is at stake that’s worth holding onto. To the extent that Christians value being accepted more than we value being holy, we are submitting ourselves to the bondage that will always, without fail, accompany the pride we are cradling in our scramble to create distance between us and those we fear will drag us down with them.