One of the reasons that I started writing this blog, and later the book A New City of God: Theology for an Age of Limits, was that I had been studying the Hebrew Bible as part of the Education for Ministry (EfM) program. (This is a four year program. Students attend a weekly class every week and carry out the necessary background reading.) The first year curriculum covers the Hebrew Bible / Old Testament. My class colleagues had heard me talk about how the Peak Oil / Climate Change situation creates opportunities for fresh Christian leadership, so they suggested that I become a modern-day prophet. Taking on such a role seemed to be rather presumptuous. Nevertheless, for better or for worse, I decided to give it a go.
Use of the word “prophet” prompted me to take a look at these older prophets. I came up with the following thoughts.
- They were not fortune tellers — they make specific predictions about the future — they merely observed what was going on around them and drew some obvious conclusions. For example, in their day three superpowers — Egypt, Assyria and Babylon — were fighting, at different times, for regional dominance. Their armies often clashed in and around the lands occupied by the Hebrews. Therefore one thing was certain — Judah and its capital Jerusalem were going to be in harm’s way. Any other reasonably informed person living at the time would have reached the same conclusion. The prophets were not revealing a secret.
- From a material point of view, there was little that the Hebrew people could do to resist their larger and more powerful enemies. Solomon did achieve a brief period of independence, but that was unusual. And, as we know, Jesus often made reference to the superpower of his time: Rome.
- The prophets did not offer a way out of the predicaments that they faced. They understood that, by and large, physical resistance was not going to work. We hear the same from Jesus, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17).
- But they did call upon the Hebrew people to return to their basic religious principles; their response was spiritual, not physical or material. As I will discuss in future posts, and in the book A New City of God, I suggest that our response to the Age of Limits crises that we face will have to be largely spiritual. After Good Friday comes Easter Sunday.
- Nevertheless — surprise, surprise — the prophets were ignored.
The analogy with what is taking place in our time is striking. Taking the above points one by one:
- Few of those studying the looming energy and environmental crises make specific predictions as to exactly what will happen or what the timing is likely to be. Like Paul, we can only “see through a glass darkly”. But they do “prophesy” that our modern-day predicaments will have catastrophic consequences. Moreover, anyone who spends just a few hours reading sensible research materials will arrive at generally the same conclusions as the modern-day “prophets”. It’s all fairly obvious. It does not require special insights.
- Like the peoples of those ancient times, we also face predicaments.
- There are no solutions because predicaments don’t have solutions. When faced with a predicament, all that we can do is respond and adapt. We cannot make the predicament go away.
- As I will discuss in future posts, and in the book A New City of God, I suggest that our response to the Age of Limits crises that we face will have to be largely spiritual. After Good Friday comes Easter Sunday.
- Modern prophets are also ignored and their prophecies are denied. The number of people willing to face up to the nature of our current predicaments is small and the number who are taking action in their personal lives is smaller still.
Of the Hebrew prophets, probably the best known is Jeremiah. He not only authored the book with his name, but may also have written Kings and Lamentations.
He was called to his prophetic ministry in 626 BCE. He prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed because the people of Israel had been unfaithful to the laws of the covenant and had forsaken the true God by worshiping Baal. He prophesied that his people would face famine, and then be taken as slaves to a foreign land.
It is interesting to note that Jeremiah did not want to be a prophet, nor did he believe that he had the skills to be one. But we are told that the Lord touched his lips, and told him to go out and prophesy. To do this he had to,
- Not be afraid,
- Stand up and speak, and
- Go where he was sent.
Jeremiah was persecuted for his work and was condemned to death. Nevertheless, he survived, and, somewhat ironically, was well treated by the Babylonians — the people who fulfilled his prophecy as to his people being captured.
Nevertheless, he was persistent; he had to speak.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in.