So the world was supposed to end last weekend. Harold Camping has been preaching on Family Radio that on May 21st, 2011, Jesus would come down, save the faithful few, and then destroy everything else. Obviously, he got it wrong, but that’s not the most interesting thing to me.
Why would someone choose to believe in an apocalypse?
What can it teach us about living a good life?
Did you notice how committed Camping’s follower’s were? They quit their jobs, donated their life savings to promote the message, and stood on street corners sharing this message trying to save others. Their deep conviction is evidence that believing in the Rature met these people’s needs at very high levels. What needs am I talking about?
At a TED talk, Tony Robbins gives the best explanation for human behavior I’ve ever heard. I don’t want to cover that entire speech here, but you should watch it. Seriously. Watch it. It’s profound.
If I believed in the end of the world, here’s how I imagine it would meet my 6 human needs:
- Certainty: I could have a very high level of certainty that I can be saved if I do the right thing, that God exists, and that my beliefs are right. Of course, this all self-induced certainty, but the secret is that all certainty is self-induced.
- Uncertainty/Variety: I’m sure that during the rapture I’ll get to experience all kinds of things I’ve never experienced before, and I don’t know exactly how the world is going to end, so it’s going to be very exciting!
- Significance: God loves me so much and I’ve done all the right things, so I will be saved. I am really important.
- Connection: I spend more time contemplating and experiencing my connection with God, and the event promises to fulfill the deepest connection and return me physically and spiritually to God. Like other Camping followers, I could quit my job and spend all of my time connecting with my family.
- Growth: I have to keep deepening my understanding of the Bible and my relationship with God; otherwise, I may not be saved.
- Contribution: I have to share this message with others that I care about so they can be saved, too. I can’t think of a more rewarding thing than to help someone save their soul.
Unfortunately, this belief is an unhealthy vehicle for meeting our needs. If I’m certain that the world is going to end and I quit my job, then I lose the certainty of being able to put a roof over my head and food on my table. If I’m so significant that I will be saved, then connecting in meaningful ways with people who believe differently will be difficult at best. If I’m only growing in a narrow interpretation of biblical reasoning, then I’m not growing in other ways that could improve the quality of my life. If I can only contribute to people by offering them this one salvation message, then I’m giving people what I think they need and not what they think they need. I’m not really contributing.
Fundamentally, this belief in the apocalypse bankrupts my happiness and my ability to live a healthy fulfilling life. That’s the bad news. The good news is that I can learn from it.
A Camping follower said, “I’m just a lot less stressed, and in a way I’m more carefree.” That’s great! We should all be less stressed and more carefree, but I don’t have to believe that the world is going to end to do it. I can believe that no matter what life has thrown at me, I have survived. I am capable of handling anything. I am certain that I will find a way. Or I can believe that whatever is happening, God has a reason for it and it serves me.
What can you believe that will meet your need for certainty in a way that contributes to a better life?
I can experience variety from this tedious world by anticipating its devastation, or I can experience variety by trying to discover different ways to hear God’s messages. Or by taking a magnifying glass on my hike and seeing flowers and insects in a whole new way. Or surprising my significant other with flowers.
What can you do to experience variety AND increases the happiness and joy in your life?
I can derive my significance from being one of a chosen few who are worthy enough to be saved, or I can believe that I am significant just because I am a child of God. Or I can believe that I’m significant because I’ve helped others achieve something that was important to them. Or because I’m a great cook.
How do you know your important? Does that help you live a happier, healthier life? Or do you need to redefine how you feel important?
I can connect with God by anticipating my imminent return to Him, or I can discover how to experience a deeper connection with God every day, especially when I’m under stress. Or I can deepen my connection with my spouse by setting up date night. Or I can call my sister and my mother every weekend. Or I can volunteer.
How can you deepen your relationships in meaningful and significant ways?
I can keep growing in my spiritual studies at the same time that I’m taking classes or learning tennis. I can find new ways to be a better friend, lover, spouse, daughter, etc.
In what areas in your life are there room for improvement, and how will you improve them?
I can focus on giving people what I think they need but not actually give them anything, or I can share my spiritual beliefs when it’s appropriate with people who want to hear it. At other times, I can contribute to people by listening, by being a good friend, by helping them believe in themselves. Or I could volunteer. Or I could cook for my family.
How can you contribute to others in ways that are meaningful and significant to you AND to them?
When I make a practice of asking these questions and acting on them in ways that support me living a fulfilling and meaningful life, then the end of the world could come tomorrow, and I’d be ok with that.
Ultimately, the lesson to be learned here is that we should live every day as if it were our last not because it will end tomorrow, but because if it did, I lived a life that was good for me, good for others, and served the greater good.
I’d have no regrets.