I’ve been thinking a lot about prophecy lately. No, not the fortune-telling or future-predicting kind, but the kind found in Scripture and in the real world, and is about justice, not prediction. It is about life together, today, not about division or some fantasy future rapture. It is time to reclaim prophecy as the telling of truth and the calling to account of those who abuse the power they have illegitimately acquired. And this includes some religious leaders who profess to be Christian.
So, one of the first things I ought to say about truth-telling is that "truth hurts." By its very nature, truth-telling is politically incorrect. Prophets see through the pretensions and lies of others and speak the truth, even to the powerful; nay, especially to the powerful. With their power and wealth, the kings and queens of society hold enormous potential for doing either good or bad. Yet their main interest is the preservation of power and wealth, so when they are called to account with the truth, they respond with their myths of preservation.
Most of the rest of us don’t take well to the truth about ourselves either. If I asked you, "what kind of a life is worth living?" would your answer bear some relation to the actual life you are living? Very few of us could honestly answer "yes." And if someone pointed out that discrepancy to us, our most likely reaction, like the rich and powerful, would be defensive. We don’t like the truth.
Not to excuse any of us, but this has been the human way for as long as written history. The scriptures of many different religious traditions are replete with stories of the pigheadedness of human beings. Not even the ancient Israelites, a people in covenantal relationship with God, could get it right, despite many "reminders." From their repeated failures arose the prophets, who came with boldness, one after the other, to call out kings and peasants alike. The prophets spoke God’s truth to all and, as a result, most suffered martyrdom through violent death; their listeners clearly took offense with the truth and the prophets paid with their lives.
Prophecy, now as then, is revolutionary, and serves as the conscience of the community. It condemns injustice, calls for righteousness, and shows the way to living according to sound moral ethics. Prophets call us to live ethically and with integrity and wholeness. Are we listening?
Who are today’s prophets? Are we listening to them, or are we not ready for the disturbing truths they are telling us? The king called the prophet Elijah a "disturber of Israel." Every true prophet "disturbs" us, that’s their function in society. Who speaks life over death, light over darkness, compassion over blame, inclusion over marginalization, the good of humanity over personal self-interest? Who speaks for justice instead of blame and exclusion? Who is echoing the prophet Amos: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an everflowing stream?" Can we translate these moral principles into everyday life? Isn’t there a higher law than statutes which seek to retain the status quo, doing injustice to real people? What kind of a life is worth living, for you?
Even if truth does hurt, life on this earth will continue to deteriorate unless we heed the prophets ... are you listening, really listening?
Rev. John Ransom is a non-denominational minister of peace and social justice. He is the author of a prayer book and "Emerging Revolution: Toward a Global Moral Ethic," to be published this summer. He lives in Readsboro with his spouse Michael, and may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, www.EmergingSpirit.info.