On The Brink: God, Prophets, Willful Ignorance

A complaint commonly expressed in every adult Christian education class I’ve led has been that the God of the Old Testament is angry and vindictive, but the God of the New Testament is loving and forgiving.  It’s why reading the Old Testament is discomforting so, except for a few familiar stories, participants would rather not.  It’s a deeply ingrained belief and even after extensive conversation they return to their original position.

The reality is that both Old and New Testaments contain the same God, not two, and that the story of humanity’s relationship with God through God’s self revelation is progressive.  The relationship begins as simple, crude, uncertain, mistaken, error prone, and moves step-by-faltering-step toward greater comprehension until the fullness of God’s self revelation is revealed in Christ Jesus. He fulfills all the law and the prophets and interprets their meaning not as a later day prophet, but as the very Word of God himself.

Why then did God use Old Testament prophets to threaten the Israelites with all kinds of terrible disasters?  I think the answer is God didn’t. Time and again God made it clear ‘he’ desired nothing more than the good life for the people, laid down basic guidelines for them to live into that good life, and warned them it would not end well if they went down other paths.  Well they, just like us, didn’t like being told how to live into a good life. Our theme song is “I did it my way.”  If we want guidance, we peruse the self help and get rich quick offerings, choose a few to our liking, and achieve little.  Not to be deterred we keep trying other offerings, all the while ignoring God’s counsel as being too impractical. I don’t know why we keep thinking some self help guru knows more than what God has fully revealed in Christ Jesus. Maybe it’s because God and Jesus are just too religious for “spiritual” people.  A real live guru has physical presence and offers sure thing results and, even better when the self declared prophet claims to be Christian while hawking easy prosperity or conservative social values as scripture.  Self declared authorities like Christopher Hitchens (d.2011) say that religion and its gods are the primary cause of all the world’s problems.

The tested prophets of old repeatedly warned the people that the paths they had taken would lead to horrible disaster and it did.  They were not unlike parents of every generation who watch their children doing something, warning them it will come to a bad end, ignored, and observing their prediction come true.

Today’s tested prophets have been joined by qualified scientists to warn governments and the public that continuing the long history of  abusing and misusing the earth and its creatures will end badly.  Like heedless children, we have ignored them even as climate disasters multiply in number and strength.  We are destroying our only island home for short term gain and reluctance to pay the cost of changing our ways, drastically and immediately.  We are guilty of willful ignorance. The earth is ours to steward for our benefit and the benefit of all.  Its vibrant fecundity is capable of providing all that is needed, as long as it is cared for properly.  The ancient prophets warned the Israelites they were on the brink of self inflicted destruction. They ignored the warning and all but a remnant were destroyed. 

We are on the same brink. God has warned us. Prophets and preachers of every religion have warned us.  Scientists and secular wisdom have warned us. Daily news stories have warned us. Our own experience has warned us. What will we do? Will we heed or be heedless?

According to best estimates a little over two billion people identify as Christian.  They are commanded by God in Christ Jesus to be responsible stewards of the creation God has put into their hands.  They are commanded to love the world as God loves and to call it good. They are commanded to listen with discernment to the religious and secular prophets whom God has called and not to others. The test of who is to be listened to has always been: Do they demonstrate love of God, humanity, creation, and the way of love trod by Jesus? Pay attention to them.

2 thoughts on “On The Brink: God, Prophets, Willful Ignorance”

  1. Thanks especially for this post, Steve. As someone drawn particularly to the Bible’s Wisdom tradition, your thoughts resonate with me. The prophets wisely tell their listeners that bad things will come their way if they continue on their chosen path. Similarly, we are warned about the dangers of smoking or ignoring the fact that bridges freeze before road; and then when bad things happens, some folks ask, “Why did God allow this to happen!?”

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