Friday, January 19, 2007

What makes a prophet?

In my previous post, I was posed a question that has me thinking - are there modern day prophets in line with the Biblical tradition? Feel free to read the comments in my previous post for the original question and my answer. I'm satisfied with my comments, but am curious to know what other people think the term means. How do you define a prophet? And is there something that distinguishes a type of prophet as in line with the Biblical tradition?

Looking in an online bible dictionary, I found this: a prophet "proclaimed the message given to him, as the "seer" beheld the vision of God. (See Num. 12:6, 8.) Thus a prophet was a spokesman for God; he spake in God's name and by his authority (Ex. 7:1). He is the mouth by which God speaks to men (Jer. 1:9; Isa. 51:16), and hence what the prophet says is not of man but of God (2 Pet. 1:20, 21; comp. Heb. 3:7; Acts 4:25; 28:25). Prophets were the immediate organs of God for the communication of his mind and will to men (Deut. 18:18, 19). "

In my own thinking, a prophet is someone who speaks to/reaches a lot of people and helps them understand God's intentions and wishes for us and our world. All of the prophets in the Bible, Jesus included (we can argue later about the full extent of Jesus's titles but prophet would be one role for sure), taught, spoke out when people didn't want to hear it, were ridiculed and questioned by those in authority, called the people to accountability, were commissioned by God in some fashion. There may be more to add to this list - I don't claim to be much of an expert or that this blog is exhaustive. A lot of these characteristics are easily seen but not all of them. The part that's really hard is the last one - how do we know who is "sent by God" or "speaking for God"?? There are preachers on tv who claim this role, but they all preach such different messages - are they all sent by God? There is a process for ordination in the United Methodist Church which is supposed to help determine those who are truly gifted for ministry and called by God, but does this process work? What about those pastors who abuse their positions? Are they still called by God? Where is the line and what are you criteria?

It doesn't work by consensus, and yet I think there are people, like MLK, Jr., who many people would agree are modern day prophets. Mother Theresa also comes to mind right away which leads me to say that people can "speak" through actions as much as words. Both aspects are important but in many cases actions come across in ways that words can never do. Jesus did both in an extraordinary way. I think there are many people, ordinary people, who do prophetic things all the time. I'd like to think that I'm one of them, but I don't dare call myself a prophet. There are many people in my life story who have been guides/teachers/mentors in their prophetic moments, but I wouldn't call them prophets outright either. I need to think about this some more but am curious to hear what you think - who are modern day prophets you would recognize - or are there none? How do you make that determination?


Big Unit said...

I don't believe there are modern day prophets. Look at the crackpots who have said they were - David Koresh, Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson.

MLK and Mom T were great people who practiced what the "prophets" taught.

hipchickmamma said...

what about jim wallis or even bono from u2? i think there are plenty of prophets but you have to look beyond the church to see them.

just as jc stood on the outskirts of the church (albeit jewish), prophets of our day and time have to stand against the church whereever it is failing.

i dunno, but i'm wary to listen to any self-proclaimed prophet. however, that person who embodies a Godly witness...i'm more enticed to listen to what they are saying.

we close ourselves and our faith off so easily if we only look to "christianity" for prophets.

i'm sure that will cause a few eyeball rolls, but i think it's totally true. a prophet stands not with the people but against them pointing them back to God. i'll admit that it makes a strong statement which i do find personally scary because it leaves open the possibility that the midwest's favorite psycho preacher fred phelps is a true prophet. he definately stands against most of society. but i believe this is where discernment comes into play. fred promotes hate...i don't beleive that resembles God's message at all.

radical love and acceptance...i do beleive that is God's message. who's out there practicing that? who is speaking that truth in a profound way and taking a bunch of crap for it? i think that's where you'll find a modern day prophet. who is calling for real justice in our world while also embodying it? that's where you'll find a real prophet. oh yea, and they have to be getting abunch of crap for it as well.

just my two cents. great conversation starter miss mandy!

mandyc said...

Unit - I just don't know what to tell you. You seem to have this problem of just accepting that what people tell you about them can be taken at face value. Just because people tell you they are prophets, doesn't mean they are. There have been stories of "false prophets" for all of history - including in the Bible (let me know if you want specific references, but I know Jeremiah had problems with various other "prophets.")

Hipchick - Mary is actually the one who got this topic going and I would encourage you to read the comments on the previous post since Mary just posted a long one there in response to my comments.

I think there definitely has to be room outside of Christianity for prophets, but I have a hard time deciphering who the prophets are from who are ordinary people having prophetic moments. I think many of us have prophetic moments (which is where I would put many preachers/pastors/ministers) but it's not our whole selves, our very beings. I think Gahndi, MLK, Mother Theresa and others like that had this sense of God that pervaded their whole beings - they were prophets. I just don't know where the line is.

Mary - in response to your questions about MT's letters, while she did feel abandoned by God, she never abandoned God. A true test of faith is whether you can still keep it when you think it's pointless or hopeless. I've read a lot of mystics (I had a class several semesters ago) and many of them talk about feeling abadnoned by God just before they reach the height of their relationship with God, like the dark before the dawn kind of thing. I've never experienced it so I don't know how else to explain it.

I would have to say that people like Noatradamus and Jeanne Dixon are psychics, not prophets. I don't know of their work being "sanctioned by God" or done out of a sense of "call" but then I'm not familiar with them and their personal stories.

I LOVE THIS CONVERSATION! This is why I created this blog in the first place - thank you for fulfilling my cyber dreams. :)

Big Unit said...

Hold on there, I am the last one to believe what people tell me. Your either making bad assumptions about me or reading what I wrote wrong.

Conversely, just because MLK, Mom T,& Gahndi had a good message doesn't make them a prophet.

Mary said...

Wow, I'm not sure I have ever been part of a cyber dream before!

I'm curious how big unit defines a prophet. Not that I have an answer, but if those listed aren't prophets- what is it that they don't possess that would make them a prophet? Sometimes it's hard to know in what spirit a question is asked via this format- so I want to say my request is not arguementative as I certainly don't have any answers. It is purely inquisitive.

Mandy- right before the beatification of Mother Teresa, Rome released letters she wrote to her spiritual advisors I guess you would say- Fr. Kolodiejchuk, M.C. wrote a four part article that was published called The soul of Mother Theresa: Hidden Aspects of Her Interior Life. I can give you more refereneces if you want to read for yourself, but in a nutshell, she talks about always feeling a profound love and unity with Jesus. This union grew and in 1946 & 1947 she was in communion with God to start her mission. She reports Jesus appearing to her thru visions and inner locutions. Shortly after she reached Calcutta everything stopped and she felt a profound loneliness and abandonment. She describes it as ".... just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing." She stopped praying. The darkness lasted the rest of her life. She called it her Gethsemane. In the end she said she came to love her darkness "for I believe now that it is a part, a very small part, of Jesus' darkness and pain on earth". She also said she thought it helped her understand that worst poverty in this world was not the loss of material items- true poverty is when we are abandoned by other people. As you said, many have experienced the same thing- often quoted John of the Cross, Dark Night when talking about her despair. This seems to be something, at least only acknowledged perhaps, in the past 500-600 years? Do you know of mystics that experienced this before John of the Cross? I am not well versed mystics I'm afraid. Did the HB (OT) prophets ever experience this? Is it just something that has come about with Christ's suffering?

I was also thinking about the idea of a prophet being a reformist and HCM above post with prophets standing on the outer fringes or outside the church. MLK definitely stood opposed to mainstream society and in HB times society and the church were much more closely fused. Mother T definitely reformed the church's mission in an area of the world that it is was widely unknown in. And both inspired people world-wide regardless of spiritual beliefs. Maybe that is reaching the masses- when your message transcends all social, geographical and spiritual boundaries. Gandhi definitely fits this reformist/mass appeal for the message profile and I don't think any of them would argue with the message or means of the others? So the message of the three is universal? Both MT and Pope John Paul II prayed at the tomb of Gandhi. So thank you- I do agree. I would call all 3 modern prophets.

Big Unit said...

proph·et /ˈprɒfɪt/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[prof-it] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation
–noun 1. a person who speaks for God or a deity, or by divine inspiration.
2. (in the Old Testament) a. a person chosen to speak for God and to guide the people of Israel: Moses was the greatest of Old Testament prophets.
b. (often initial capital letter) one of the Major or Minor Prophets.
c. one of a band of ecstatic visionaries claiming divine inspiration and, according to popular belief, possessing magical powers.
d. a person who practices divination.

3. one of a class of persons in the early church, next in order after the apostles, recognized as inspired to utter special revelations and predictions. 1 Cor. 12:28.
4. the Prophet, Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
5. a person regarded as, or claiming to be, an inspired teacher or leader.
6. a person who foretells or predicts what is to come: a weather prophet; prophets of doom.
7. a spokesperson of some doctrine, cause, or movement.

I guess if you take #7 above, I'm a prophet, as is just about everybody.

But more to this conversation: #1 a person who speaks for God or a deity, or by divine inspiration. I believe there are people who proclaim God's word but doubt anyone putting out something "new" that god spoke to them.

Mary said...

So if I understand you, part of the definition of prophet, pertains to an era in history and no longer applies- somewhat like the term "Babylonian"?

As for nothing being new, I'm not sure I agree. The world is very different today. The OT dealt to a great extent w/ Mosaic law- preparation of food/no shellfish, sacrifice, purity of practice, etc. That covenant changed with Jesus. It's what Paul spent so much time trying to get across- I like to use Phil 3 as an example of how we attain righteousness- faith in Jesus Christ vs. purity of practice. Having said this, there aren't any Christians in the NT. There are Hebrews and Gentiles and Pagans, but Christianity hasn't been heard of. Paul was looking to reform the temple- he saw Jesus as the future of the temple, not as something separate. So all of the views expressed in the bible are filtered thru Mosaic Law in varying degrees.

Today, the world is very different. Mother Teresa said her purpose was not conversion, but to make a Catholic a better Catholic, a Muslim a better Muslim and a Hindu a better Hindu. Gandhi said, "I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am a Christian, I am a Jew - and so are all of you." I think this is very new- Mosaic Law, and perpetuated by the Church after the time of Christ, gives us this is right and this is wrong, we are right and they are wrong. Jesus excluded no one. Paul tried to include everyone (into the reformed temple he sought) but I think that message has not caught on and in today's era is new.

New can be a different understanding or implementation of an old idea. New can be new to me or new to the world. I just can't believe that the message ended with the Vulgate or with the decisions made at the council of Trent.

MLK had a dream which is how many prophets in the OT received messages from God and Mother Teresa accounts speaking directly with God or Jesus. I think their messages were divine and were new. After all there were slaves and society outcasts in the bible and the world has perpetuated those thru the current day. What would the world look like today without them and there message- message from God.

Trouble said...

not so unlike my usual, i would take a really broad view of prophet and prophecy. yes i know, you are all really surprized.

we only know god from our limited experience. once again, we are dinky minded little humans with infantile abilities of perception and of expression. just because i don't agree with a person's experience of the divine doesn't mean that interaction did not happen or was not authentic. furthermore, that person can only relate the experience to me by means of semantically flawed language and i can only receive that by comparing it to known experiences in my life which i will instantly judge as similar or dissimilar. the major problem is that i will then make a judgement on whether or not this message that is being passed on to me should be considered or dismissed based on how i judge the communication and the sender.

bottom line is this; i don't know who is or is not a prophet. i doubt i even know when god is 'speaking' though me to someone else. we all are channels, sounders, filters, disconnects and very poor translators.

i have to believe that god is 'speaking' to me and through me at all times. my job is to find the messages and apply them, not analyze the transmission.

mlk, jesus, mom t, gandhi and a whole boatload of others (most of whom i do not know by name) have been prophetic in my life. the list gets longer as i become a better 'listener'.

Big Unit said...

spoken wisely trouble.