The mistake of Harold Camping and all who followed him and waited for the rapture and cataclysmic end of days on May 21, 2011 has entirely to do with how one reads the Bible. Camping read the Bible in search of secret clues - a hidden code that reveals the truth. To read in such a way is to misunderstand the word. The Bible doesn't need to be deciphered.
Translation is necessary - it was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Cultural understanding is necessary - the books of the Bible assumed the readers would have a working knowledge of the contexts of the time of composition. That familiarity is not available to 21st century readers, so we need the help of historians and archaeologists and theologians.
But, what is not needed is a complicated deciphering of what's behind the text or hidden in the text. The books of the Bible are intended to reveal God - God's love, God's purposes, God's design. The story and the teaching is not a front behind which a secret timeline unveils the exact date of the end. Camping's mistake was he missed the trees in search of the forest.
Rather than attempting to unearth some hidden message, we do well to see the message that is plain in the text. Love God. Love the neighbor. Obey God. Serve without expectation. No matter how good or bad life becomes, believe and live in faith. Be committed to studying the word, gathering with the church for worship, serving, sharing the gospel, and prayer.
No algorithms or secret knowledge is needed to glean these things. If we live in faith and live in love and focus on Jesus, our lives will be filled with joy, we will find ourselves helping people, we'll have a positive outlook, and we'll be giving away good news to everyone we meet. We will live in pure joy. And when we get to heaven, we'll recognize the place because we will have spent our life following the God who resides there.
My latest sermon, posted on this blog, is about focusing on the main thing - Jesus. Check it out.