Judgment Day?-- The end of the world as we know it?
St. Francis of Assisi, while hoeing in his garden, was once reportedly asked what he would do if he knew that Christ was coming back that very day.
He answered, "I'd keep right on hoeing."
So, it stands to reason, he would probably be hoeing today.
Today is Judgment Day, according to a California man who believes he calculated the date of the Rapture based on biblical research.
The Rapture, as some believe, will bring believers' souls straight to heaven. According to the preaching of Harold Camping, it will begin at 6 p.m. today. The end of the world, he believes, will occur five months later, on Oct. 21.
Beliefs in Judgment Day and the Rapture are not unusual. About 41 percent of Americans think that Jesus Christ will return to earth before 2050, according to a 2010 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
What is unique in Camping's teachings is that he thinks he can pinpoint an exact date.
In fact, the New Testament itself states that the date of Jesus Christ's return is unknown.
"Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come." Thus states Matthew 24:42, according to the King James Version of the Bible.
The United Pentecostal Church of Bemidji just this week hosted a guest speaker on the Rapture and related topics.
The Rev. Bruce Brady, the pastor with UPC, said the church believes in the Rapture, through which God will rapture his children from the earth, and that the event will then be followed by a seven-year period of tribulation.
But the UPC believes no one will know the day or hour of the Rapture, also known as the "great catching away," and should be prepared for it to come at any time.
Because no one will know the day, Brady is not worried about whether the sun will rise tomorrow.
"We are not holding fast to the Rapture taking place (today)," he said.
In fact, while the UPC believes the Rapture could occur at any time between now and 2030, they expect that it would not occur today because people do expect it and God would not call on us when we expect it, Brady said.
Similarly, he does not expect that the Rapture will occur in 2012, per the end of the Mayan calendar, for the same reasons.
"God is not going to base his Rapture on the Mayans," he said.
The Rev. Joshua Hawn of First Baptist Church in Park Rapids this week posted a blog at fbcpr.areavoices.com in which he talks about Camping's prediction.
"I believe that Jesus is coming back, and I believe that He will come for born-again believers," Hawn writes. "I believe that the world will someday end and that there will be terrible destruction on the earth.
"I just don't believe that it will happen this Saturday."
He lists three reasons that he does not believe it will happen today, including that Camping's math is not biblically sound.
"It's unfortunate that so many will be deceived and disappointed come Saturday," he wrote.
Further disappointing, he said, is that such predications, when proven false with the next day's sunrise, injure the perception of Christ, the Bible and Christians.
"People have been speculating that California will break away from America and drift off into the ocean someday," he writes. "The fact that it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it can't or that it won't. The same is true for the Bible. Just because all those things haven't happened yet doesn't mean they won't."
The Rev. Eric Hucke of Bemidji United Methodist Church said the Methodist Church believes that Jesus Christ will return at the end of time. However, no specific knowledge has been given to us that would indicate a potential date.
While the Methodist Church does not anticipate the end of time in the near future, that does not mean it cannot happen, Hucke said.
Therefore, the Methodist Church encourages its members to have faith and trust in God to be with them now and at the end of time, whenever that may be, he said.
The Rev. Lon Kuether is the pastor of St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church, a Wisconsin Synod church. He said their church believes that believers will be called into Heaven on the last day.
The Wisconsin Synod believes each and every day might be our last day on earth.
The church takes an amillennialism view in that it rejects the theory that Jesus Christ will reign on the earth
Kuether said the Wisconsin Synod believes Jesus ascended into Heaven on Easter and became and remains king of kings now, from his place in Heaven.
Jesus said, my kingdom is not of this world, Kuether noted.
The world's end has been predicated time and time and before.
What's behind such passionate pronouncements?
A fervent belief that good will triumph over evil, according to John Helgeland, a professor of religion and history at North Dakota State University.
"It is a brand of apocalyptic religious thinking that involves the promise of the end of the world and the coming of God to put an end to evil and evildoers," Helgeland said.
End-of-days prognostications are as old as the Book of Revelation, Helgeland said, adding that many people thought the world's number was up when the calendar turned from 999 to 1000.
The same thing happened a thousand years later.
"Y2K was probably the last really big one," Helgeland said, though he added that many other examples can be found throughout history.
In the 1840s, he said, a group that gave rise to the Seventh-day Adventists decided it had figured out when the final grain of sand would sift through the hourglass.
On the day they believed God would return and bring an end to everything, church members stood on a hill in white robes, waiting for sunrise.
"I suppose you could guess: It didn't happen," Helgeland said.
This is not even the first time Camping himself predicted Judgment Day.
He said before that the Rapture would occur on Sept. 6, 1994.
That, obviously, did not occur.
He has since revised his calculations, according to various news sources, based on information in the Book of Jeremiah, which he had not previously considered.
The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead contributed to this story.