It's kind of cool to predict the future. I've told my son, "If you don't stop throwing that toy on the driveway, it's going to break." I know what will happen, I tell others what will happen and then I sit back feeling superior when my predictions come true. I predicted the collapse of the housing market, the demise of the SUV with rising gas prices, the credit crunch and the war in Afghanistan. It wasn't rocket science, but it was easy enough to see where things were headed. Heck, back in 1995 I was telling my female students, "Looking for a research topic? Look up the Taliban. That's some seriously scary stuff going down in Afghanistan."
Sometimes I see what's coming and it is U-G-L-Y. "He'll cheat on her after they're married. Once a pig, always a pig." That's not the kind of prediction you share with lots of people because it's impolite and scandalous. I took enough flack spouting off about gas prices and the irresponsibility of driving SUVs through the suburbs to my sisters-in-law a few years back when one was driving an Expedition and the other was driving an Escalade and considering buying a Hummer. But my predictions on economics and environmental issues are not necessarily a personal attack like my predictions about a spouse's predilection for extramarital sex.
But I'm no prophet, per se, and I'm glad I'm not. In my slog through the Old Testament, I'm into the prophets and man, their job sucked. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel--ordered by God to tell their friends, family, neighbors and strangers alike that God would smite them but hard if they didn't clean up their act. And all the prophets were stuck between that rock/hard place: alienate everyone in the world with their angry ranting and strange behavior OR get God's smackdown.
I'm in the middle of the book of Jeremiah where he describes God's words as literally burning him up inside if he doesn't speak them. But he's a social pariah, beaten by the king, despised by all who know him. People probably saw him coming down the street and spat at him or turned the other way because someone so "off" is too painfully awkward to confront. I know I would've turned my shoulder on Jeremiah and muttered through my veil to my neighbor lady at the well, "That poor crazy man, someone should just lock him up so he stops bothering everybody."
The prophets have nothing but Bad News, condemnation and hellfire and damnation spouting from their lips. Nobody believes them, nobody likes them. Yet I imagine they all had days when they wanted to sugar coat God's message and just give somebody a hug and say, "It'll be okay. Your children will grow up safe and healthy and your vineyard will stand for generations." I'm sure they wanted to be accepted by their society, loved and respected.
But if they didn't speak, Israel didn't stand a chance. Someone had to be the voice of reason, of correction, of warning. I know that feeling. I tell my sons, "Don't mess around with that fire or you'll get burned." And when Mr. G comes screaming and crying into my arms fifteen minutes later with a scorching hot marshmallow burning into his bare shoulder, I don't feel self-righteous and proud, I don't think it serves him right. I feel bad that he didn't listen to me and now he's got to suffer. His pain strikes me in my heart, just as I suppose the pain of God's wrath executed on their own families and friends struck the prophets. Nobody thinks of the prophets as loving other people, but I bet they did. Beneath all their scruffy long beards and camel hair robes, they were human beings with the same needs and urges and temptations that the rest of us have.
Occasionally I read about modern day prophets--David Koresh, for example, and I view them with skepticism. Men (and women) who claim The End is Near! and walk around damning the infidels to hell make me think, "Poor misguided soul." Okay, I actually think, "Whack-job. Someone needs to commit them before they hurt sombody else." Generally it's pretty obvious when a person's prophesysing is self-serving. Still I wonder what if, in the midst of all the false prophets, I ignore what a real prophet is saying?
The Bible says we all have spiritual gifts--and one of them is the gift of prophecy. I am so thankful I don't have it. That's one thing I've discovered lately during my slog through the Old Testament. It's easy to admire Old Testament leaders, Moses, David, Josiah. It's tougher to admire the prophets, but their dedication is growing on me. Poor unappreciated sons of guns. I bet nobody sat around in exile after the Babylonians burned up their vineyard and carried off their children into slavery saying, "Dang. That Jeremiah, he was right on the money, wasn't he? Wonder where he's at now. I ought to thank him and give him a chance to gloat and say 'I told you so.'"