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Church Leaders Reflect on Apocalyptic Prediction

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Family Radio Founder Harold Camping is just the latest to say our time is ticking away - quickly. Family Radio Founder Harold Camping is just the latest to say our time is ticking away - quickly.

According to an apocalyptic prediction, the world will end on Saturday, May 21. This latest apocalyptic prediction is from a radio evangelist, Harold Camping.  Camping says May 21 will be the first day of judgment and God will destroy the world five months later on October 21.

So far, doomsday predictions have come, caused waves of fear among their followers, passed, and life on earth continues. Hollywood has banked millions on apocalyptic blockbusters and for centuries, followers have flocked to evangelists predicting a specific doomsday.

Family Radio Founder Harold Camping is just the latest to say our time is ticking away - quickly. In a YouTube video, Camping proclaimed, "We will come to that awesome day when we're right at the end."

But saying whether the world will end this weekend or not, is also a matter of faith. Father Dennis McAuliffe points parishioners at Charlottesville's Holy Comforter Catholic Church to one passage in the Gospel of Matthew.

"But of that day and hour, no one knows. Neither the angels of heaven or the son. But the father alone," Father McAuliff recited.

Whether it's the Gospel of Matthew or the Book of Revelation, Professor Kristin Swenson, from Virginia Commonwealth University, is an expert. She authored "Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of all Time."

"That symbolism allows for all sorts of different interpretations and predictions," said Swenson.

She says these apocalyptic predictors believe they've unlocked the hidden truths within the Bible, often based on symbols and calculations throughout its text - especially in the Book of Revelation.

"This is the end time - when God breaks in, heaven breaks into earth, God breaks into the human sphere and rights the wrongs," she explained.

But she worries that date setting preys on vulnerable people when they're down on their luck and looking for an escape. That's why so many judgment days have come and gone. Even Harold Camping predicted Christ would return 17 years ago.

"We have people coming up with these absolutist predictions that then they're still able to reconfigure should it not come to pass as earlier predicted," she said. And that can be devastating for believers. Swenson explained, "I think we all have a desire to be confident in our place in the world."

"There's a desire for something certain, something nailed down," stated Will Johns, a pastor at Waynesboro's Seventh Day Adventist Church.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church is a Christian denomination born from a preacher who set a date for the second coming on October 1844.

"It was an incredibly disappointing experience," reflected Johns.

Since then, the Seventh Day Adventists have opposed date setting for the second coming, even though it's something the church's faithful look forward to.

"It does a tremendous amount of damage to someone's personal faith to set a date and then have that date pass," he continued.

That same faith in the timing of a higher power is the message from Tom Leland at University Baptist in Charlottesville.

"There will be a judgment day," Leland asserted. "Christ himself said he did not know. So, it's presumptuous for any human being to say ‘I know the date.'"

The clergy call that blind faith dangerous, and preach that the end - no matter what your personal belief - isn't a time to tremble and fear.

"I think the people who are connected to God can look forward to that day without fear," Leland said.

Father McAuliff asked, "Tomorrow's in the hands of God, so what are you going to do - sit around and worry about it? Or just do what you need to do today to get to tomorrow?"

As a side note, all the faith leaders interviewed for this article say Sunday services will continue as planned this week.