Saturday, September 09, 2006

Prophesy Junkies and Divination

I was in High School when Hal Lindsay wrote "The Late-Great Planet Earth" and it's hard to believe (this being a public high school), but we listened to a phonograph record of Jack Van Impe's "The Coming War With Russia" in speech class. In the decades that followed, Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins have sold millions of copies of their "Left Behind" novels. Suffice it to say, Prophesy has long been of interest to a lot of people around me.

So it was at Camp this Labor Day weekend. The preacher preached from Jesus' Olivet Discourse which is the mother lode for prophesy junkies. In this passage, the Savior is asked for the signs of the end of the world and Jesus complies. The preacher then proceeded to interpret the passage indicating those things in current events that may correspond to the signs Jesus described.

Only trouble is that people have spent the last couple thousand years pointing at current events and matching them to the content of prophesy to make a case for the imminent end of the world. I am not enamored with eschatology, because I believe it serves as a distraction from more important matters, particularly, soteriology. I would rather someone knows how to get saved than how many horns or bowls or seals are in the eschaton.

(The preacher at Camp wasn't stupid or even wrong, I suppose. But each time he said that money was "digitalized" it felt like fingernails being drawn across chalkboard.)

This week I had lunch with a couple Christian brothers. One is a cradle Baptist like myself who was exposed to a lot of Hal Lindsay premillenialism. The other was raised Christian Reformed and I presume exposed to an amillenial eschaton. Talk got around to prophesy. My Christian Reformed friend said that someone he knew had gotten in which a group who claimed that prophesy teaches that the world will end in ten years. Had we heard anything of that? Not specifically. But it's not as if this hasn't happened a zillion times before.

I got to thinking about what is the "right" way go use prophesy given the fact that I'm so un-enamored with the way I've always seen it used.

Consider Joel 2:28-32, where the prophet claims that in the day of the Lord, the sun will be dark, and the moon will be like blood. This prophesy is actually used in the Bible, and I think that usage gives us a clue. The Bible tells us that on the day that Christ was crucified, it was dark from noon to 3:00pm. If Christ was crucified in AD 33, then there would have been a lunar eclipse at moon rise then, too. If you are familiar with the appearance of a lunar eclipse, you'll note a reddening of its appearance. If this happens at moonrise, the light from the moon will pass through more of the atmosphere reddening it even more.

Let's suppose you're living in Jerusalem, maybe one of the guys in the crowd shouting for that Barabas fellow. Fifty days later you're in the Temple and there's a commotion. A preacher, one of Jesus's disciples, who's calling himself Peter stands up and quotes the aforementioned prophesy. Think about how you'd respond. You've seen these things. You've read the prophesy. The prophesy points to the recent past and shows you how to interpret events of the recent past.

Contrast this with fortune-telling or divination. In those activities, the goal of the activity is to forecast or predict the future. I think my dislike for prophesy mongering is that even if the preacher doesn't intend to do so, he's acting like a Baptist fortune-teller. Instead of interpreting tea-leaves, he's interpreting ancient Hebrew verse, or ancient Greek apocalypse, but he's pointing to the future.

I think it is wrong to use prophesy as a tool of divination. I think the correct interpretation of prophesy always points BACKWARDS in time, not forwards. This is confusing. I'll illustrate. Let's suppose the prophet Joel lived and wrote before 800BC. Let's suppose Christ was crucified in April 33AD and Peter preached 50 days later. I can't see how anybody could have interpreted Joel's prophesy before April 33AD. We see, however, Peter interprets the prophesy after that point with powerful good effect.

I think that we should go through scripture prophesies with an eye for what HAS happened, instead of looking for whats GOING TO happen. When we find a match, we should use the prophetic message to properly signify those events.

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