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The God Squad: Free will not a theological trick

March 11, 2011|By Rabbi Marc Gellman

Q: Someone on a cable TV channel recently made a prediction that the world would end on May 29, 2011. He was very sure and adamant about this and is announcing it daily. What do you think about this? Please let me know before May 29. — K., Lindenhurst, N.Y., via snail mail

A: The temptation to know the date the world will end has occupied people with nothing better to do for centuries, particularly in the time between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Various movements and sects whipped themselves into a frenzy after the death of Jesus, passionately believing Christ's second coming was imminent. As time passed without a second coming, some of these millenarian and chiliastic movements lost their appeal.

The Gospels are full of wise advice to avoid such inflammatory speculation. In Matthew 24:36 we read, "But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only." (See also Mark 13:32; Matthew 24:42)

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The textual loophole some have used to predict the second coming (which, by the way, is not the same as the end of the world) is the use of the words "hour" and "day." They interpret this to mean that although we cannot know the time of the day when Jesus will return, we can know the year. This has become a sad old song as the predicted years have come and gone.

The main reason to avoid speculation about the second coming, the rapture, the end of time, or the end of the world is that it leads to fatalism — the idea that there's no reason to do anything productive, healing, or good in the world because the world will end soon, regardless of what we do. There's a great Jewish legend about this. The rabbis of old taught that if you're planting a tree and you hear that the Messiah is coming, first plant the tree and then go out to greet the Messiah.

My advice to you is not to worry. Sunday, May 29, will pass by and the sun will rise as usual on Monday, May 30. I know this because I have a golf outing scheduled on May 30 and I don't think The Boss would want to wreck my day!

Send questions only to godsquadquestion@aol.com.

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