By now we’ve been told about the stock market, the possibility of a double-dip recession, runaway deficits, etc. Not only in the U. S., but in western Europe as well, as the lists of nations with financial crises continues to grow. We have heard expert after expert tell us about fundamentals, underlying pressures, systemic budgeting flaws, and a host of other terms most of us understand about as well as we can decipher airline pricing strategies.
I’m neither an economist nor a prophet. So I don’t know what’s ahead, though like most people my age I admit to a certain uneasiness about the prospects for retirement at a “normal” age. My limited knowledge of how financial markets operate and of how consumption-oriented we have become does not give me great optimism. We have an economy that only thrives when people buy a lot of stuff, far beyond what they need. And the last thing most of us really need is more stuff. On the prophetic side, I have had no angelic visitations with words from on high giving direct insight into what is happening, where we ought to go, who is going to pay what price, or what specific violation of God’s will has been transgressed.
But I do wonder. I wonder whether it is possible that God is tapping us on the shoulder, or perhaps smacking our fingers to get our attention. Such talk is dangerous, perhaps even subversive in some people’s’ minds. We all remember with a wince how Jerry Falwell came out with his ad hoc reasons for God’s allowing of the terrorist attacks of a decade ago; we also endured the self-appointed after-the-fact prophets of doom and judgment declaring the tsunami devastation as divine judgment. Not before the event, which might have made such claims somewhat credible, but after it was all over and the relief work motivated by God’s love had already begun.
Yes, I do wonder. Though I’m not a fan of the ever-present prophecy movement, which reads signs and tea leaves in light of yesterday’s news and tomorrow’s speculations without confronting its own mistaken and unfulfilled earlier pronouncements, is it really out of the reach of Christian imagination to believe that Christ actually WILL come again? Would that return be likely to include warnings, such as natural disasters, international turmoil, and internal collapse caused by people who will not acknowledge any legitimate authority, all doing what is right in their own eyes?
I don’t expect a prophet; there’s a good biblical reason not to look for one, related to God’s own declared plan for speaking to the inhabitants of this planet. See Hebrews 1:1-3, which tells us that prophets were God’s instruments of choice in “former times;” He now speaks through the Son. His word to us through that Son is life, hope. If I hear that correctly, God’s message to us in disasters is not the disaster itself, not the devastation; it is in the hope to be found in the midst of the tragedy. There are times when God’s judgment is the playing out of consequences of unwise, sinfully motivated choices–and perhaps the economic woes of the present are just that. We should be attentive. And we, as the Body of Christ, should be beacons of hope within whatever suffering may yet come about–by living together with a different set of priorities, a communal sense of true love for one another, a different set of lenses for evaluating the worth, prospects, and gifts of people. Come to think of it, that just might be prophetic after all.
What prevents us from being communities of hope in our churches? What kinds of messages should we send about a better way, and how should we send them? Or are we too caught up in playing the same blame game that political parties are playing? Share your thoughts, please.