Dear Hope Family,
Our survey of the biblical books of Jonah, Joel, and Habakkuk puts us into contact with one of the most misunderstood and neglected genres of Scripture: prophecy.
It is easy to conceive of prophecy by the popular definition of foretelling future events and to focus on the predictive nature of prophecy. In a chaotic, unpredictable, and unmanageable world, who wouldn’t want an insider’s perspective and advance knowledge to navigate all the slings and arrows this life throws at us? Our infatuation with performance, achievement, and capability often drives us to places of being desperate for a leg up or a fast pass to security and success. I often return to Anne Lamott’s insight on perfectionism and its core beliefs: “I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” It sure would be easier, though, if you knew the “right” stepping stones ahead of time! However, without completely flattening out the predictive elements of the Bible’s understanding of prophecy, the main thrust of the prophets is not simply to provide discrete bits of information needed for the making of decisions ahead of time or to foretell future events, but rather that the Lord would write His word upon our heart, purify our hearts, and grant us a sense of constant dependence upon the Lord.
The prophets were sent by God to his covenant people to woo them back into a vital covenantal relationship with Him. God’s people were famous for failing to embrace God’s covenant promises in their hearts and for failing to close the gap between their “official theology” – what they believed – and their “practical theology” – how they lived. They routinely forgot the purpose of their election (Exodus 19:4-6). They regularly accommodated their ways to the majority culture’s norms and values rather than being an influence for God’s norms and values (Amos 2:7-8). They sinfully tolerated economic and social corruption and injustice. And so, the prophets are called by God to complain, rant, rave, and warn against these gross sins in the presence of God’s people for the sake of their and the world’s flourishing. They aimed squarely at the presumption, complacency, and waywardness of God’s people. Their goal was repentance and return.
It was quite easy to write in that last paragraph of God’s people as if they were merely characters in an old narrative, and with 21st century sophistication and technology we are not susceptible to the presumption, complacency, and waywardness that plagued the Old Testament people of God. But we, just as much as they, need the voice of prophecy calling us back, wooing us back, warning us back into real-time trust and dependency upon the living God – for the sake of our and the world’s flourishing.
We do well to incline our ears and attend to these strange voices of Jonah, Joel, and Habakkuk. We will know that we are listening if we find ourselves, once again, crying out for the abounding steadfast love and faithful mercy of the Lord!
Grace and peace,