The Great Disapointment

In the same year that Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone merged their restoration movements, another preacher was making a name for himself on the American religious scene. His name was William Miller, and his followers were called (oddly enough) “Millerites.” Miller came to believe that Bible prophecy held the key to understanding God’s timetable for the end of the world (sound familiar at all?). Based upon the so-called “day-year principle” (“with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” see 2 Peter 3:8), Miller set the date for doomsday as October 22, 1844. He attracted quite a following—somewhere between 50,000 and 500,000 (you know how those preacher counts go). There are reports of Millerites

As you may have noticed, the world did not end, and to his credit, Miller responded publically, saying, "I confess my error, and acknowledge my disappointment; yet I still believe that the day of the Lord is near, even at the door."  The time following October 22, 1844 was known among Millerites as “The Great Disappointment.” Most of them simply disappeared, and Miller himself faded from the scene and died a few years later. Some of his followers, however, were a bit too invested in Miller’s doomsday scenario, and they modified his predictions came to form two different groups, the Seventh Day Adventists (who believe Jesus began an “investigative judgment” on October 22, 1844 when he entered the heavenly Temple to open the books) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (who kept right on predicting the end of the world every four or so years or so right up through the 1970’s).

This week, the followers of Harold Camping are experiencing their own “Great Disappointment.” Camping first tried the “investigative judgment” route and said the date was right, but the judgment was spiritual and “invisible” and that the actual end of the world is now October 21. Later he admitted that maybe he just figured it up wrong. What he should have said was what one journalist said for him, “Ok, so I got the Apocalypse date wrong; it's not the end of the world.”

There is a lesson in here somewhere. To humbly seek the mind of God with a determination to follow what you believe to be His will is called "faith." To proclaim that you have the fully understood the mind of God and that you can speak authoritatively for Him is called "arrogance."  There really is a huge difference the two, but it is amazing how often we get faith and arrogance mixed up. We must seek the mind of God (faith) but we cannot calim limit Him or obligate Him by our understandings (arrogance).  Paul ends a pretty difficult section of Romans (which commentataries either see as a parenthetical interruption of Paul’s main point or the actual main point of the book, take your pick) with a with a doxology we really need to keep in mind—

33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
34Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?”
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Anytime we think we have the mind of God figured out (as to the end of the world, how God works in baptism, what kind of church music He prefers or any other topic), we are setting ourselves up for a Great Disappointment. In the words of the great theologian "Dirty" Harry Callahan, “A man’s got to know his limitations.”