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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Towards Effective Prophecy

In this chapter [Lamentations, Chapter 2], the poet indicts the false prophets who did not expose the sins of Judah. Who are the false prophets we tend to “give ear” to: Politicians? University profs? Entertainers? Our peer group? Psychologists? “Health and wealth” evangelists? (Serendipity Bible 10th anniversary edition, page 1148).

We can contrast Dutch uncles with indulgent ones. Dutch uncles are caustic and critical, indulgent uncles refuse to criticize. It can be worthwhile to explore those conditions under which we find criticism more acceptable than others. For this purpose I will expand the idea of criticism to include faultfinding.

Several years ago I went to a doctor for what I thought would be a routine visit following a lab report of my blood analysis. The doctor informed me that the analysis revealed certain proteins present in the blood which could indicate bone marrow cancer. Of course, I did not become incensed by his identification of a possible physical malady. In fact, I found it hard to endure the wait until definite conclusions could be reached following a bone marrow biopsy. Even at the outset, I was pleased that my doctor was fully competent and could identify a possible lethal condition. [The biopsy finding was negative—no cancer.]

Now contrast this to when I am subjected to faultfinding regarding my character. Say, someone judges that I am lazy and confronts me with this evaluation. My response would include a measure of resentment totally lacking within the doctor’s visit. Why this different response?

Character evaluations heavily suggest a measure of freewill [and thus possible blame] which is largely lacking in physical matters. I can resent anyone criticizing my choices or intruding upon what I feel to be an area of my own prerogative [between me and God]. Of course the world of values is much more contentious than verifiable physical findings in a lab.

Additionally, my doctor reassured me with a hopeful prognosis. He said that if it turns out I have cancer, the specialist he was sending me to was exceptionally skilled and would handle proactively whatever he may find—the odds were in my favor. This encouragement is quite different from the faultfinder's condemnation that judges me incorrigibly lazy and on the road to hell.

An added factor is my perception of my doctor as a positive creator—a regular Michelangelo of medicine. That is, he is not just a destructive hacker always tearing me down, but a skilled artist capable of helping me realize my sculptured best.

Finally, there is the matter of privacy. The doctor did not parade my physical vulnerabilities before everyone. He told me privately in his office. Dutch uncles often do not show such sensitivity, but can castigate loudly in front of others. The fact that I chose to share my cancer anxiety with friends does not preclude my appreciation for the dignity and respect shown to me by the doctor in his regard for my privacy.

Now prophets are known preeminently for being critical of a nation’s character—by its very nature a public matter. Thus, inevitably their criticism frequently is done publicly. Such public critiques can be found by many to be greatly offensive when prodigiously negative.

Thus, prophets are most effective when they are not constantly hacking and tearing down, but when they become skilled sculptors capable of birthing hope and corrective good without sentimentality or pandering. Such prophets do well to draw a large circle of inclusiveness so that their criticism can be seen to have the verisimilitude of privacy—efficaciously one-on-one within the close kinship of the human family.

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