In many ways we still have a lot of Greek thinking in our system. Cassandra is a case in point. I have been called a “Cassandra”, which my dictionary defines as “a person who prophesies doom or disaster.” Cassandra, daughter of King Priam of Troy, was given the gift of prophesy by Apollo, but when she spurned his advances, he ordained that her prophecies would not be believed. Today we live in Cassandra times, when the many warnings are simply ignored.
Why do we ignore explicit signs of looming disasters? Al Gore’s documentary and book The Inconvenient Truth were well received by the public, but since implementing its recommendations involved measures inconveniencing peoples’ life styles, they were and still are not taken seriously. The key reason New Orleans was not better protected, was simply optimistic inertia: it will never happen here. The financial meltdown two years ago was predicted by many, but The Market was seen as infallible.
Of course the same is the case with the one substance on which we have built our life: not faith in the Infinite God – that too for some- but faith in an infinite supply of oil. Global Warming receives the same treatment: “We have driven the Earth to a crisis state from which it may never, on a human scale, return to the lush and comfortable world we love and in which we grew up,” writes the 90 year old Dr James Lovelock in his book The Revenge of Gaia, Earth’s climate in crisis and the fate of humanity. Curiously Lovelock, who is not a Christian, starts his book with a quote from Jesus: “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:24). A gnat is the tiniest of unclean animals. He refers here to political and environmental measures that are for appearances only but really have no substance, while the real issue is ignored or the so-called cure has negative results. Ethanol from corn comes to mind. The Germans have a beautiful word for that symptom: Schlimmbesserung, which literally means “an improvement that makes matters worse.”
By and large prophets are unpopular. They are unpopular because they question the status quo; they are unpopular because people hate change; they are unpopular because people want to feel comfortable; they are unpopular because politicians want to avoid controversy at all cost, they hate to be bringers of bad news even though they know better; prophets are unpopular even in the church as is evident from just a cursory reading of the Old Testament prophets: all of them plainly show that leaders in organized religion in the days before Christ do not significantly differ from most of today’s principal church actors who also want to please everybody.
The average human thinks that a prophet is a special person who speaks for God or one who foretells the future, at least that’s what my dictionary tells me, but I take issue with that explanation, because it would limit the office of prophet to crackpots, since nobody can predict the future.
As an older person I am a product of a society that since long has disappeared. In my teenage years I was part of weekly gatherings of some 20 young men. There, after having attended two church services of at least 90 minutes in duration, we debated topics of general Christian interest, introduced by one of the members. There I learned that we as Christians have a three-fold office: that of Prophet, Priest and King. These weekly 2 hour Sunday- evening gatherings in the early and mid 1940’s shaped my outlook on life.
To be a Prophet, Priest and King is a core Calvinistic declaration, but one that I don’t hear much about anymore. Perhaps the words of God to Ezekiel (chapter 2: 2-5) apply to today as well: “I am sending you to a rebellious nation that is obstinate and stubborn. And whether they listen or not they will know that a prophet has been among them”.
After this introduction, I better clarify what I perceive to be a prophet’s profile.
A prophet is a visionary, a seer. In the Bible they were called ‘seers’ not because they could see into the future, but because they could see the truth, could understand the deeper meaning of life and have a holistic view on events. In other words prophets do not major in minors, but grasp the true consequences of the day’s happenings, and the deeper spiritual message of the present moment.
A prophet sheds unblinking light on the pain and injustices of the present. By doing so he or she links heeding to hearing and action to understanding.
Thus a prophet is not an extraordinary gifted person who knows the unknown, a sort of fortune-teller who magically foretells what is to come. No, a prophet is first and foremost a believer who refuses to nostalgically wallow in the past, but is convinced that a new present requires new thinking and different approaches.
A prophet is first and foremost a believer who openly and unabashedly dares to look at what is happening ‘out there’ and, as a consequence, fully embraces his or her responsibility for the immense challenges evident in our quickly changing society.
A prophet is first and foremost a believer who has the courage to critically look at past decisions, including those involving doctrines, to test them on their relevance for today and tomorrow.
A prophet is first and foremost a believer who from his or her perspective on contemporary life dares to look to the future to keep creation viable for our children and grandchildren and also strives for a church in which these young people feel at home.
A prophet is first and foremost a believer who by seeing Scripture as a lamp for their feet and a light for their path in God’s wonderful creation, knows that Christ, as the Son of Man, the Ben-Adam, the Son of the Soil, will return to make all things new. That’s why a prophet, in spite of all the sin and evil in this world, looks to the future with full confidence.
A prophet is first and foremost a believer who now already can visualize what this future will be like and thus can critically evaluate the present in the light of the glorious future that is coming.
Looking back how we have arrived at the circumstances we are in today then I detect that the economic boom that made America in the 20th century the globe’s largest economy and the envy of the world, can be traced to some fortunate circumstances: where Europe and the rest of the world suffered ruinous wars, North American industrial hinterlands were not only spared destruction, but benefited immensely as producers of war materials and the providers of the black gold in Texas and elsewhere in its territory. It is easily forgotten that the United States at the mid 20th century produced more petroleum than all the other countries on Earth put together. The oceans of oil on which the US floated to victory in two world wars made it the economic super power of the by-gone era. That domestic oil-flow has now been reduced to a trickle, while global supplies too are shrinking, at exactly the same time when expectations of billions of destitute people are rising, thanks to ubiquitous television. The major news in the past months has been that the IEA, the International Energy Agency reported that oil obtained from conventional sources peaked in 2006, something earth-quaking, yet hardly reported in the major news sources.
With the arrival of Peak Oil and the first slow slippages in worldwide conventional petroleum production, it is not difficult to predict for those who have ears to hear, eyes to see and minds to embrace, that the big challenge facing today’s industrial societies is managing the end of abundance, rather than the onset of greater wealth for the Rest of the World.
The brief period of cheap and plentiful energy is now ending. For an all too short a period the world experienced this exceptional occurrence in historical terms where each person had at its beck and call 24/7/365 a hundred slaves. This age of abundance has been nothing else but a tremendous acceleration of human history. During my life time I have seen the more than tripling of the number of humans, just one example of the speeding up of everything, including the Good News: the acceleration of the Coming of Christ.
A realistic look at what’s happening makes plain that the period of unprecedented prosperity, extraordinary extravagance and gigantic growth, is ending, perhaps even suddenly. That means that society has to relearn the lessons of more normal and less unusual times, times where we have the opportunity to again truly and purposely honor creation. That’s what Peter alluded to in 2 Peter 3: 11-12 when he asked us “to live holy and godly lives as we look forward to the Day of God and speed its coming.”
In this connection I’d like to draw your attention to a line in the Lord’s Prayer, the one immediately following our request “Your Kingdom Come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” which is a direct appeal for the speedy coming of The New Creation. The next line which many of us also repeat almost every week is “Give us this day our daily bread.” In the March 25 2010 issue of the London Review of Books, a new book is discussed, A History of Christianity, The first 3000 years. There it says that “The Greek word epiousios, translated as ‘daily’ does not mean ‘daily.’… the most likely learned guess seems to be that it refers to a special bread that will be needed the next day if the kingdom should happen to come overnight. Professor Dr Herman Ridderbos, in his marvelous work The Coming of the Kingdom, also says that ‘daily’ is most likely incorrect, and leans to “belonging to the coming kingdom.” This, in my totally layman’s opinion, fits in with the preceding line and thus the request to Give us this day our daily bread, could read “Give us the wherewithal to prepare ourselves for the Coming of the Kingdom.”
In June 2010 Toronto had the dubious honor to host the G20 meeting, which, as usual, focused on the economy and how to do everything in their power to enhance economic growth, even though perpetual growth is an impossibility,and when it does happen, as in cancer, it ends in death.
Politicians look to yesterday for answer to cope with tomorrow’s problems. Attempt after attempt to cure economic stagnation by expanding access to credit have only generated a series of destructive speculative bubbles and crashes while destroying creation. Efforts to maintain an inflated standard of living in the face of a contracting real economy have only caused mountains of debts. Today’s policy makers are driven by a two-pronged faith commitment: (1) that policies that failed last year will succeed next year, and (2) that the pursuit of ever newer and ever more expensive technological tools will assure an even grander future.
A new course should be taken, based on simple technologies, locally based, more resilient, sustainable and creation friendly, but that will not happen because that means concentrating on negative growth. What will happen is that the warnings in the Bible and by the modern-day Cassandras will be ignored. People will go there merry way till the End, when the Lord will come back to rectify the situation once and for all. Be part of that in-Spired restoration process.

February 2011
Bert Hielema

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