The end of the world is nigh
BILL TINKER has been on the Plaza from time to time warning passers-by that the end of the world is approaching.
Bill Tinker is 79 and is pretty sure he's going to die on May 21. Except, he won't die. Along with about 200 million other true believers, Bill will be "going up."
That's because May 21 is going to be the end of the world.
For the rest of us, for you and me? The odds don't look so good.
We could be among the 2 billion - more or less - instantly crushed as a global earthquake works its way east to west from New Zealand to Sonoma, "shaking all the cities down."
Or we could be among the rest of the not-so-lucky ones and end up in hell. The good news is that hell is not, as most churches teach, eternal punishment. The bad news is that hell is eternal death.
What's that like, you may wonder.
"Well," says Bill, with a gentle smile, "You're just dead. Forever."
Bill knows these things because he has become an ardent student of the Bible and he trusts the indescribably intricate interpretations, investigations and determinations made by the Christian radio legend Harold Camping who has spent a majority of his 89 years teasing God's true intentions out of the Bible, word-by-literal-word. Following Camping's mathematical equation, which Bill Tinker has at his fingertips, is a little challenging and requires more than a 10-minute sidewalk conversation, although Bill will be happy to give explaining it a try. He stands during random days and hours at the edge of the Plaza horseshoe, on the sidewalk in front of the bus stop. He'll be glad to hand you a handful of tracts explaining why the world will end on May 21. But right now he's not getting a lot of takers.
"Right now," says Bill, "we are finding there are fewer and fewer and fewer true believers. So, I'm lucky if I can give away tracts here. Now, I've had two people pull over and walk over and take tracts. I've had three people walking by that took tracts. OK? That's pretty good. And the rest of them are just being warned. Because the Bible tells us that we must warn the world."
Among the important things to know about the end of the world is that the churches cannot be trusted because they were all taken over by Satan in 1988. That's when Bill retired as a nuclear inspector ("I glow in the dark ... that's a joke.") at Mare Island and, by coincidence, walked out of his church.
"I went to my elder and I told him I had this book, "The End of the Church Age" (written by Camping), and I asked him, would you read this book to give me your opinion of it? He looked at it, he flipped three pages, and then he handed it back and said, 'This is trash.' So you see, the churches are not true believers."
But believing, as it turns out, is not required to "go up."
"The true believers are going up on May 21," Bill reiterates. But then he adds, those are the people, "that God had chosen before he created the world. He created the world, and before he created the world God had already planned everything that's happening ... There's nothing you can do for your salvation. Everyone in this world is a sinner and we all deserve hell."
Unless God saves you, and you can't do anything about that because the decision was made before you were born. Or was it? Isn't there anything we can do for a last chance at salvation? Good works, confession, major philanthropy, a little flagellation?
"Oh yes. You can cry out to God and hope he'll save you. That's all you can do. That's why we have this tract, it says, Cry out mightily unto God."
The End-of-Days, Rapture equation is a little like the labyrinthine logic of "The Da Vinci Code," or other Biblical pot-boilers. It parses names and dates and arcane numbers and creatively-interpreted events to arrive at a date that has come and gone before without the promised End of the World. Even Camping first predicted the world would end in 1994. That mistake is now attributed, says Bill, to a shortage of additional information now woven tightly into Camping's rapture countdown. This time, they've really got it right.
And what will happen to the Earth on May 21? Well, nothing at first, except for all the bodies "which will not be buried," and the total desolation of all the cities.
But then, after May 21, "The world has 153 days, and then it's the end. The world goes up in flames. On Oct. 21."
What causes this final conflagration?
"God. God is in charge of this world. And he's creating a new world for the true believers, the 200 million."
Does Bill think he'll be among them?
"I feel that I'm saved, but I have no positive, perfect guarantee. It's because God does it, not me. There's nothing I can do for my salvation."
Members of Bill's family don't exactly share his convictions.
"Very few of my family does. Nobody wants to know that the world is coming to an end. Nobody wants to believe that."
Does his wife believe as he does?
"No," says Bill, without a trace of embarrassment. "I am married but separated. My wife and I are good friends, but we live separately."
So what is he planning to do on May 21?
"There is not much I'm planning on doing, except watch it come. Because on May 21, nobody can be saved."
And what if he's wrong?
"Let me put it this way. What are you going to do when it happens, because it's going to happen. We do not believe that God is lying. We believe the Bible to be the total word of God. It came from the mouth of God. Every word."
Any last message for the non-believers among us?
"Well," says Bill Tinker, "the bible says that no man knows the day or the hour. And I always tell them, my name is No Man."