Topic: Role of prophetic/dissenting voices
Num 12:6 And he said, Hear now my words: if there be a prophet among you, I Jehovah will make myself known unto him in a vision, I will speak with him in a dream.
Job 15:8 Hast thou heard the secret counsel of God? (Eliphaz the Temanite to Job)
2 Ki 17:13 Yet Jehovah testified unto Israel, and unto Judah, by every prophet, and every seer, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all powerful,
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each
who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all powerful.
(A Celtic prayer)
What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘prophet’? Chrystal balls? ‘Black sheep’? Predictions about the future?
The picture I get in my mind is that of Michael York playing incredibly well the role of John the Baptist in Zeffirelli’s movie Jesus of Nazareth. Remember him? Absolutely crazy; or so it seemed.
Prophets are strange people. You can never put them in a labeled box. They never sit comfortably in any given place, nor are they making people around them feel very comfortable. Yet, the Bible tells us that ‘when there is no vision [meaning, there is nor prophetic voice being heard] the people perish’. Why is that?
First, because prophets are servants of a strange God. You cannot put God in a box. He is always surprising. You cannot define him and you cannot confine him even to his book, the Bible. Even theology, the ‘science about God’ can merely indicate, tentatively, the way to him. Yet, without a ‘word from God’, we cannot live. God called the world into being through his ‘word’ and through the same ‘word’ he keeps us alive spiritually.
God raised prophets in Israel because those whose intended role was to mediate between God’s people and God himself, the priests (the church leaders of those days), tended to side too easily with political power, the kings, the nobles and generals,. As a result, the poor of the land were left without a defender, at the mercy of the powerful.
In such conditions, God raised special people, to speak for him. He endowed them with special gifts, in order to speak strongly for the voiceless, to confront courageously those in power and to call persistently the people of God to the ‘old ways’ of the law of God. That does not mean they were conservatives: quite the opposite. They were calling the faithful to be creative in their obedience to the law of God. Maybe that’s why most of them used poetry and a rich imagery in order to convey their messages,
Even when they were predicting the future (which, may surprise the common perception, did not represent even 5% of the prophets’ message in the Old Testament) their main purpose was to challenge the people of God to live faithfully in the present, in light of God’s plans for the future, illustrated synthetically in the figure of the coming Messiah.
The image that came naturally to the mind of a Jew when they heard the word ‘prophet’ was that of someone who participated in some strange manner, eves dropping, so to say, to the ‘secret counsel of God’ or was informed about it by God, often through an angel, in a dream, in a vision or even through a theophany (a visible manifestation of God, that the Old Testament calls sometimes ‘the Angel of the Lord’). Then, the prophet was supposed to communicate this message to the people of God, no matter what consequences were to follow. And there were consequences. Some of God’s messengers were sent to jail, exiled or even killed because those in power, and sometimes the people of God as a whole, chose to disobey God.
In the Christian age, the work of the prophets did not disappear completely Yet, especially after the books of New Testament were written, that particular ministry was performed more and more by the elders of churches. The word ‘elder’ in Greek is presbyteros, which, among other things, means literally ‘those who see afar’.
We need such people among us. If all of us would be clerics or managers, or business people, our work would soon become stale and we will start running in circles, for lack of a transcendental perspective. That is why our boards need a few people with prophetic gifts. We also need to nurture among us a ‘listening and prayerful heart’. Periods of prayer and fasting, as well as spiritual retreats, especially before major decisions, could help us acquire the ‘mind of God’ and get from God a fresh perspective on things.
We also need to create in our meetings an atmosphere of trust that encourages dissenting opinions to be freely expressed, so that, after all is said and done, what is decided represents God’s heart for the poor in that specific situation. May God help us in that with his grace!
- How can we encourage and listen to dissenting voices in our boards?
- Please share about an instance when, in a board meeting, a ‘word from God’ changed in a major way a decision or direction discussed.
Prophets are meant to make us feel uncomfortable so that, from that disbalanced position, we could better hear the voice of God in our work on behalf of the poor and the oppressed.
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Note: I have written this text for a recent World Vision publication titled Resources for Governance Devotions, which is going to be used as a devotional guide for World Vision national boards.