October is traditionally the month of fall festivals, the first frost, radiant hardwood trees, and in this election year, the fabled “October surprise.” October also seems to be the month for a different type of surprise — at least a predicted though as of yet unrealized one: October garners the attention of more doomsday prophets and Armageddon predictors than any other month.
Why, I can’t say, except that the cooler temperatures must make some religious leaders downright apocalyptically apoplectic. A plethora of men and women have stamped October as the expiration date for the universe, each with their own brand of imagination and interpretive gymnastics.
One such individual was a Baptist minister named William Miller. Miller was a talented preacher, who like many religious enthusiasts of his era, became fixated on the second coming of Christ. Miller predicted that “the second coming of Jesus Christ would be on or before 1844.” A few of his associates were bold enough to declare an exact date: Oct. 22.
Magazines were printed, camp meetings were held, and Millerite evangelists scoured the countryside with the word that the end was near. A million people — an extraordinary number for the time — attended his meetings, and thousands were converted to his ideas.
On the evening of Oct. 21, 1844, thousands of Miller’s followers gathered on hillsides across the country. They had quit their jobs, had given away all their possessions, had made peace with God, and many were wearing white robes ready to welcome Jesus back to earth. Nothing happened, of course, and in Millerite history Oct. 22, 1844, became known as “The Great Disappointment.”
I wish I could say that Miller was an isolated case, but we know differently — and it’s not just a few flakey groups on the periphery. It’s “normal” people who look around at this crazy world (and who can blame them), and the thought of an “escape hatch” becomes an easy proposition to believe.
They are not unlike the preachers of my childhood who were good-hearted and so very well intentioned, but they couldn’t face the world as it really was; not unlike my friends from college who were so convinced that Jesus would return before they were thirty, they dropped out of school. They are not unlike the man whose middle-school children were in my church youth group decades ago. He quit saving for their education because he “knew that Jesus would return before they graduated.”
To live like this is to become little more than caricatures of today’s politicians who kick society’s worst problems down the street for another generation to address, long after they have left office. We become freakish doomsday-preppers who hunker down watching the clock for the end of the world, instead of joining God in his transforming work right here, right now.
So here is a surprise for you: Jesus probably won’t be back this October. Get busy living, loving, and being — though with Nov. 8 looming, a man can pray, can’t he?
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.