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The Holy Spirit is still speaking. Will we listen?
Despite our deep reverence for a book filled with stories of prophets and prophecy, we might well shy away from this task. Our society, which espouses rationality as a cultural value, shirks away from talks of vision. We may be living in a time that is not unlike the age in which Samuel was born. Recall the opening of 1 Samuel 3: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” We view prophecy with suspicion, having witnessed far too many doomsday predictions that came and went without so much as a whimper. Or we think of modern prophets as the homeless person with schizophrenia shouting from the street corner. If our news stories report on people seeing visions, they are more likely to report on Jesus appearing in an oil stain on a grain silo in the Midwest than about a person of God calling us to see a new path.
We are more likely to embrace contemporary visions if they are culturally palatable. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was just that at the time, but is now espoused as a cultural value, even as we are continually challenged to reshape our society in that vision. The Puritan vision of the “Shining City on a Hill” continues to resonate with many in contemporary American culture. But when the prophets warn us that God wants us to change anything about our lives, our culture, or our comfort level, they are rarely received like Jonah in Nineveh. (As you may remember, after the experience inside the giant fish, Jonah successfully warned Nineveh to change their ways, and they did, which gave Jonah complicated feelings.) Rather, we may react in a way closer to the Jerusalem described in Luke 13:34…if not killing the prophets, perhaps canceling them or at least ignoring them.
If we fail to heed the warnings of scientists, sociologists, and our children, will we listen to prophets? Will we listen to the clergy who passionately preach about creation justice? Will we understand that God is still speaking through God’s people and their actions? The prophet Joel (2:28), lamenting over a ruined country with failed crops, reminded us that in such times, God pours out the spirit on all flesh. God promised Joel that “sons and daughters shall prophesy,” and young and old alike would dream dreams and see visions. Through repentance and turning toward those visions, the nation’s divisions would be healed and its fortunes restored.
The Bible is clear that we can change our fortunes when we listen to the prophets. Such change requires collective, unified action, which may feel like a tall order in our deeply bifurcated society. During the early days of the pandemic, when we were briefly #AllInThisTogether, the pollution contributing to climate change fell dramatically as our travel and trade practices briefly changed. Perhaps that was one of the lessons we were supposed to take away from the last three years—when we work together, we can literally save lives. We can face our existential threats and make changes that restore fortune and life together. Are we listening as the Holy Spirit speaks to us through our prophets, scientists, sociologists, and children?
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.