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.

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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.