What Manner of Man is the Prophet? (Part 2)

13 05 2010

So, continuing with the characteristics of a prophet. . .

3. Uses Luminous and Explosive Language

A prophet writes in a style both “poetic . . . [and] charged with agitation, anguish, and a spirit of nonacceptance”. His words are “designed to shock rather than to edify” and his “images much not shine, they must burn.” The prophet speaks out boldly and loudly to get attention to the issue, disregarding social conventions or matters of style. He’s not an eloquent public speaker trying to convince the audience of his side of the issue – he stands out and condemns the wrong and call people to repent and change what’s wrong in this world.

The reason he speaks with such conviction and power: “his life and soul are at stake in what he says and in what is going to happen to what he says.” God holds Ezekiel responsible for delivering God’s word, however unpopular it might be. God says that if Ezekiel doesn’t deliver the message, the person’s / nation’s sin is on Ezekiel’s head. But if he delivers it, their sin is on their own heads for not listening to him. That’s a huge responsibility. And, as the prophet is a member of the society to which he speaks, the prophet equally shares in their fate.

“Authentic utterance derives from a moment of identification of a person [prophet] and a word [that he’s delivering]… He is one not only with what he says; he is involved with his people in what his words foreshadow.” The prophet cannot speak prophetically until he identifies himself with(a) the message and (b) the subject to whom he will speak. This is similar to Christ becoming human – he doesn’t have the right to speak to us until he is one of us – and in so doing, he becomes the message. This isn’t so strange as it may seem – a person speaks most passionately when they truly believe what they say, and even more convincingly when they’ve experienced what they say. In this way, the best messenger must identify himself with the message (although we must not confuse the two).


What Manner of Man is the Prophet? (Part 1)

12 05 2010

Christians should be reading far more Jewish theologians – they have beautiful perspectives on God. Abraham J. Heschel (d. 1972) is one such academic, though a bit more of a spiritualist than anything else. I obtained a copy of his The Prophets and began reading. It’s…. powerful.

Also, although he himself believed prophecy had ended, I challenge those with charismatic leanings to compare his words to your understanding of a prophet. I find that, while his perspective sounds different, it rings quite true of prophets today – of what prophets today ought to be.

I was going to simply list the characteristics of a prophet he gives in his first chapter, but instead I want to meditate upon them. So, I will present them just one or two in a post, with some reflections.

1. Sensitive to Evil

A prophet has a “breathless impatience with injustice” and “is a man who feels fiercely”. This is in contrast to the rest of humanity, whose “eyes are witness to the callousness and cruelty of man, but  . . . we rarely grow indignant or overly excited”. I’m reminded of an intense period of time when I was spending more than 8 hours a day in prayer, when God’s voice was clear and his presence tangible. During that time, every slight sin, every cruel word from my mouth, or impatient action felt like a wall going up between me and God. The wall was so painful, that I’d immediately repent and take whatever action I could to apologize or change. Just before bed one night, I spoke sharply to someone. The wall between me and God was so intense, that I couldn’t sleep. I was only able to feel at peace when I promised God that I would ask their forgiveness as soon as I awoke. Indeed, I was up before sunrise and looking for the person I needed to apologize to. What intimacy to feel the smallest prick of sin!

“Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony” of this fallen world. This incredible sensitivity to the presence of evil is not intended to be a personal matter for the prophet – it has a social orientation. The prophet is obligated to speak out for injustice and to speak out on a large scale. That is, some today seem to feel that prophecy is just a gift for God to speak to the individual person – to speak words of encouragement or guidance. But, according to Old Testament prophets, it has a much large scope.

2. Knows the Importance of Trivialities

The ways and plight of humans are insignificant compared to God, but God chooses to be “preoccupied with man, with the concrete actualities of history rather than with the timeless issues of thought [philosophy].” The prophet is also concerned with the trivial and the details, agonizing over imperfections. The main point here is one of the contrast between the philosophic / theological and the prophetic. I think this ties in nicely with the sensitivity to evil, as a sensitivity to details and imperfections. But it’s also a sensitivity to how the little things add up in life – daily choices take us on our whole life’s course, and I think the prophet has the ability to see that. The prophet can look at those little things and see what they’re adding up to.

Suspending the Critic

6 05 2010

I fired my critic a few weeks ago. She was driving me crazy! Everything I did, or everything I heard, she was picking out the faults. Of course, she was generally right. And I have to give her credit – she didn’t nitpick. She usually reserved her critiques for the important things, and only pointed out one or two major flaws. She especially liked finding the flaws with logic or theology.

But a few weeks ago, she was hovering over one book I was trying to read. She wasn’t saying anything, just hovering with that watchful eye in a fairly restrained manner. But still, hovering. I could sense her breathing down my neck, waiting to find a major flaw in the writing, the ideas presented, or the author’s perspective.

So I fired her. I told her to get lost and never find her way back. I told her that I appreciate her caution, and that she is well-trained with a good eye and discipline. But I also told her I won’t be needing her services at the moment.

The amazing thing? She left. Instantly. Didn’t return stealthily or whisper negative thoughts in my ear. I haven’t heard a word from her. I know that if I ever need her, she’ll return at a moment’s notice. And she may even creep back when I’m tired or otherwise irritable. But for now…

The spirit of criticism left.

The Academic and the Supernatural

21 04 2010

While I intended this blog as an academic exercise, I’m finding my time spent elsewhere. Yes, I’ve enjoyed the History of Christianity in Asia and a rather conservative commentary on Ephesians. But what I’ve really been reading? Charles Kraft’s I Give You Authority. Demons. Spiritual warfare.

Too often people read such books with a morbid fascination, a strong dread, and a good dose of skepticism. Because, after all, we’re modernists. Or early post-modernists. Or just plain human.

But that’s not how I read it. I’ve had to dig back about 5 years and remember what I’ve learned before. And the truth is, his books say very little that I don’t already know. I mean, I haven’t articulated it all as clearly as he has, but most of what he says I know to be true from my own experience.

The world we walk in is just one facet of reality. But God has given his power that humans in this world may influence the spiritual. So often we’re blind to that. Maybe we’ve never been shown the spiritual world, or maybe we deny it. But it’s there. And the more we ignore / deny it, the more power we give to Satan.

The people I’ve known to be the most effective in ministry, are those that balance the two: professors, pastors, missionaries…. an academic without spiritual awareness lacks authority, and the spiritually aware, without understanding, is easily misled.

Manifest Presence

17 01 2010

At a prayer meeting tonight, the preacher told everyone to ask for God’s “manifest presence”. He defined this as charismatic outpourings, basically, and cited David, Daniel, and Acts for evidence. He then told us to pray for it to happen then and there.

Now, I have no real problem with his theology. I tend to have a more quiet approach, but can sit quietly in my own intimate space with God while others are yelling, speaking in tongues, or falling down around me. Occasionally I’ll join in, but even then, with more reservation than most.

However, at the end of the night, my friend said she has often prayed to experience God in real, physical ways, but that he mostly speaks to her through others. She seemed saddened, like she was missing out on some grand Christian experience. Now, there are those that would agree with her, but I’m not one.

The fact is, real faith runs deeper than crying when you pray. Really experiencing God has more to do with obedience, action, and daily choices than it does with emotions or supernatural manifestations. I’m not saying there’s no place for these things, just that when we speak too highly or too frequently of them, we lose our perspective. My concerns are twofold:

First, people (often pastors) telling people to ask for it, to seek it, to desire it, and to intercede for it. It’s not that that’s wrong; in some cases that’s exactly what’s needed. What concerns me is how often I hear people like my friend, talking about wanting to “experience” God, feeling left out of the “in crowd”. Which leads me to my second point.

Second, it’s too rare that we teach these things. We tell people to want them, to look for them, but not what they need to do. Of course, it all comes from God (when it’s real). But I suspect one reason people don’t hear an audible voice is because they don’t know what it sounds like. They ask to hear a voice, but when there’s no earth-shaking deep voice speaking a word of profound wisdom, they give up.

Sure, God can and will do anything. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. But mostly, those manifestations of God’s presence have nothing to do with daily life or with someone’s spiritual condition. In fact, I rather suspect that having those experiences too often are a sign of immaturity. God tends to pour out those manifestations as evidence of power, tests of trust, etc.

By all means, pray for them. If you really feel the need, search out someone who can teach you more deeply about them. But remember, all these things will pass away.

Claiming Prophecy Fulfillment can be Dangerous

5 01 2010

Actually, this post should be entitled “The Dangers of Claiming a Prophecy Fulfilled”. . .

At a friend’s suggestion, I began reading Goll’s The Prophetic Intercessor. Immediately, I sensed he and I would disagree theologically. But that’s hardly a reason not to read his book. I tried to keep an open mind and found his analysis of prayer and prophetic gifting to be fairly accurate.

Then I came to one chapter that described, in-depth, what he thought to be the major prophetic fulfillment in our age. I was curious, what would he use as his primary example of prophetic fulfillment? As he looked around today, what would he claim as God’s powerful work, released through the prayers of centuries of saints?

Modern Israel. He claimed that the creation and sustained presence of Israel signified God’s work.

I never claim to be well versed in politics or history. But this is one area I cannot support. Now, I’m not saying God has nothing to do with it. In fact, I’m not even going to say it wasn’t prophesied in scripture. But I am certain that there are elements of the current situation in Israel that break God’s heart.

So, the moment I began that chapter, I knew I couldn’t finish it. I read a few pages, but ultimately gave up. I even put down the book and expected not to pick it up again.

However, I reflected on what he’d said before that. I reflected on the fact that he definitely had some accurate and insightful things to say. So I picked the book up and continued, skipping the chapter. I’m definitely glad I did, for I found much to respect between those pages.

My warning for all of us here:  The moment you claim something fulfills scripture, you risk alienating many of the people you speak to. Does that mean you never do it? No, I don’t think it does. It just means you take care. Remember that not everyone agrees with you and be certain its worth the risk. Then, when you’re sure you know what you’re doing, then you can publish / announce it.

I think that goes for much of what we say and do in life. If you’re a huge fan of the Dodgers, don’t assume that everyone who lives in LA is also. Perhaps that new co-worker just moved to LA and they have always been avid supporters of the SF Giants. Whether it’s a baseball game or a prophecy, we alienate people by assuming they agree with us.

On the other hand, I think we all need to be a little less sensitive. So someone assumed something about you, correct them. Tell them what you really think and let it go.