Sunday, July 13, 2014

Prophets, Reality, and More Bad Raps

A couple years ago, I was listening to the radio, and a band called Sidewalk Prophets was talking about their band name.  They had taken it from a line in a Jars of Clay song (Art in Me) that went, "Images on a sidewalk speak of dreams descent."  They also came up with the word "prophets" by reading the dictionary and discovering that one of the meanings of "prophet" was simply "someone who tells the truth about life."

I'm not a huge Sidewalk Prophets fan or anything (though I LOVE Jars of Clay), but I think they were on to something.  Because I think it's typical for people to think about prophets as something weird and strange, mystical and mysterious.  I think it's typical for people to assume that prophets were people God used back in the Old Testament, but that prophets don't exist anymore today.

But if you look at the definition the Sidewalk Prophets adopted, that a prophet is someone who tells the truth about life, then yes.  I do think that God gifts people with prophecy today, and I think they're more common than most people presume.  I don't think that prophets necessarily do predict the future (some might), but I think that sometimes they can see how things are going to go by looking at the reality of situations.  Prophets, people who see and tell the truth about life, are like the ultimate realists.  They look at a situation and say, "This is not going well," but they also say, "this is what needs to change if things are going to get better."  And I'm not too sure which one is more offensive to people--the accusation that things are bad, or the challenge to do something differently.  All I know is that prophets and realists are offensive.  Unintentionally.

...I may or may not be a prophet...
(the writing kind, not the preaching kind)
...the jury is still out...
...but I am a realist...
...and I am mysterious...
...and I do like Dragons... that's nice...

And if you read one of my recent posts that is kinda sorta NOT about Eeyore, you're really going to know that I really think realists get a really bad rap.  Really.

I've had to learn the hard way that when you tell the truth about life, people don't like it.  And I really should have been more prepared, especially since a lot of the Biblical prophets had it pretty bad.  When they weren't busy getting persecuted (the real kind where you could actually lose your life, not the American version where you have a flat tire and are only mildly inconvenienced), threatened, thrown in cisterns, having their written prophecies torn and burned up, being ordered to tell lies like all the false prophets, etc., they had to do some pretty crazy stuffs to illustrate the prophecies they'd been given.  Isaiah wandered around naked.  Hosea married a prostitute.  Ezekiel had to lie on his side for over a year and then cut off his hair and beat it with a sword.  I'm not trying to make light of Scripture, but really...what did Zeke's neighbors think?

And maybe prophets were just weird, okay?  Because John the Baptist wore camel skin and ate locusts and wild honey. Locusts and wild honey.  If I were going to eat giant-freak grasshoppers, I'd probably put some honey on them, too.  Helps them go down easier, I'm sure.  And maybe that's part of the whole prophet experience.  If you're going to go out into the wilderness to see a freak show tell you the truth about life, then you're going to go out into the wilderness to see a freak show tell you the truth about life.  Jesus even had something to say about that: 

...Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, 'BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.' Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.  For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John.  And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.  But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children and say, 'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon!' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds." (Matthew 11: 7-19 NASB)

Jesus knew why the people had come out to see John the Baptist.  And I imagine he was quite the sight.  People probably came to John for the novelty, to see someone weird and different who had something to say.  But he spoke the truth in both love and power, and people's hearts and lives were changed.  But there were also those who scoffed at and persecuted and killed John, and there were those who scoffed at and persecuted and killed Jesus, too.  And there are those who scoff at and persecute (and, yes, sometimes even kill) the prophets of today.  Because no matter whether you're wearing a suit and tie or a suit made of camel skin, if you're telling people something true that they don't want to hear, they're going to hate you for it.  

And no one really wants to be told the truth about the sin they're trying to hide or deny.  No one wants to be told that their sin is going to lead to death and hell.  No one wants to be told that there is absolutely nothing they can do in their own strength to save themselves.  People want to be told that life is going to pleasant and good, that they can do whatever they want, that they don't have to follow any God besides their own heart-idols.  They want to be told that they're essentially good and strong in their own merit.  They want to be told that they are special and wonderful and are always going to get what they want, regardless of how they live.  

Prophets get a bad rap because people always want to kill the messenger.  

Prophets get a bad rap because people like having someone else to blame.

Prophets get a bad rap because ignorance really is bliss, and people really want to be blissful.  They don't want to be convicted.  They don't want to change.  So they sweep the problem under the rug, and they sweep the prophets out the door.

And people miss the message they need because it's not what they want to hear.  They miss the message because they lie to themselves that prophets are gloomy and depressing and have nothing good to say.  But most of the prophets in the Old Testament had good news at the end of the bad.  And the prophets of today have hope at the end of the despair.

I have heard many, many people say that realists are just pessimists in disguise, but I disagree.  A realist sees a situation for what it is.  And the reality of our human situation is that we're sinners.  And because God is holy, He can't tolerate sin.  So that means we're going to be separated from Him forever.

But that's not the end of the matter.  It should be, but it's not.  The reality of our situation is also something pretty amazing--that God loved us while we were still sinners, and came to die in our place.  He came to be fleshly like us so that we could be Holy like Him.  The Old Testament prophets had good news, hope, in the midst of the stark reality of the Israelites' sins.  The prophets today have good news, hope, in the midst of the stark reality of our sins.

But the reality also is that people still don't want to hear that.  They want to believe the more comfortable lies.  And they still want to kill the messengers.  So prophets are called liars or idiots or fools.  Prophets are called intolerant or bigots or religious fanatics who are stuck in the dark ages.  Prophets are called unloving.  Prophets are called hateful.  People make up lies about prophets to make them look like the ones who are evil.  And people want to believe those lies rather than to face the truth.

And all the while, the prophets who remain obedient keep speaking the truth in love to a world that just doesn't want to hear it.

It's hard, and it's heartbreaking.  It's heartbreaking because a true prophet doesn't just care about the message; a true prophet cares about the people who hear the message.  But so few have ears to hear.

Still...the prophet speaks.

The reality doesn't change just because no one wants to hear it.  And people are still sinners even if they don't want to believe it.  And Jesus is still our only hope even if no one wants to accept Him.

Jesus is still our only hope. 

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