24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
These are the words uttered by Jesus Christ at the start of his ministry, which he had just announced in front of the very people he grew up with in Nazareth, in rather bold fashion in fulfillment of Scripture. These are the words sung by Joan Osborne, trying to picture what our reaction would be if God were among us as man–
What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home…
Back up to heaven all alone
Nobody calling on the phone
‘cept for the Pope maybe in Rome
I can imagine few things would be more crushing than expectations for anyone claiming to be a prophet. What exactly does a prophet look like? What do they do for fun? Can they joke, smile, laugh, play? Are they all curmudgeons? What is to be the key prophetic characteristic? Brash, bold, solemn, quiet dignity, old, wizened, unkempt, loving, serene, crazed, severe, scolding, bearded, mystical, wise, charismatic, learned, with plenty of experience or a complete lack thereof? I am not entirely sure. I am quite sure that in any case being human is very likely to get in the way of anyone believing any claim for them to be what they are.
Some prophets are called as youth. Samuel heard the voice of God as a young boy. The Prophet Joseph Smith had his “First Vision” at the age of 14. Others are considerably older when we hear about them, hence the prototypical aged and bearded patriarch. Some are the wild outsider, ala John the Baptist, raised in the wilderness on locusts and honey, Others like Samuel are part of the established priesthood or ecclesiarchy (Hows that for a fancy new word of the day?).
It seems apparent to me that just being who they were, at least in the above cases, lead directly to being rejected out of hand by people who had a different mental picture of what a prophet should be. The problem is, how exactly do we know what a prophet should be when we ourselves are not prophets. I am pretty sure they aren’t without their flaws. Yet having flaws puts what they say up for debate, as it “could” be the flaw speaking and not inspiration.
Can you see the arrogance in this approach? It seems the prophet’s problem is that they haven’t reached our own level of enlightenment. What exactly is it that qualifies us to judge? I think this is a key reason we are always reading about how the prophets were rejected, even killed in their day. There just isn’t a truth anyone can teach as a prophet that someone will not disagree and take issue with. To take it a step further. There is nothing that God can say or do that someone will not disagree or take issue with. It seems it is even more difficult for God to live up to everything we expect him to be. It appears that the Savior was unable to convince many of those who knew him well. If he were to come among us tomorrow, it would not be any different.
So many people come at religion with an idea of what they feel God should be. Argument after theological argument has been made against God on the basis of Theodicy (word of the day #2), or the question of why there is evil in the world, and how God must be responsible as either a cause, of at least failing to stop it. All of this presupposes what we feel a good and true God would do if he were to create a Universe.
If is doesn’t match up, why then of course there must be no God, at least not one as described in the New Testament. Certainly not a God that interacts with creation and cares about human affairs. Of course, this conveniently ignores that prophets and Christ himself actually came with a message. What would the world be like if everyone actually lived the way Christ taught? It would chop the sum total of human suffering into a small fraction of what it is now.
There is a problem with this way of thinking. It presumes to know what the best action God could possibly take based on our perspective as a mortal stuck right here, right now. If God doesn’t agree with our political views, we become certain he must be in error. If God doesn’t run things the way it seems to us it should be run, obviously something is wrong with God. Furthermore, if other picture God in a manner that we disagree with, they obviously are in error and have not reached our degree of enlightenment.
It seems to me a little humility is in order. We have the taint of our own culture and the limitations of our own intelligence and mortality to contend with. In the end, the finite simply cannot comprehend the infinite. “My ways are higher than thy ways” God tells us, and it only makes sense. What is the sum total a person can learn in one lifetime compared to eternity? We know that cultural values will shift. We know that mankind has stumbled violently through existence for ages. We should know that our civilization, our discoveries, our knowledge are only as good as the effectiveness with which we pass it all on and the openness with which it is received. In all this, we are fighting entropy. To borrow a phrase from Kansas, “all we do crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see. Dust in the wind.”
I guess the point is there are some things we have to take on faith. Of course, this action is not without it’s own set of problems. Do we have faith everything is as it should be and sit around doing nothing? Of course not. Do we accept what we are told is the word of God or his will blindly? Again, certainly not. Some of the ugliest chapters in human history have occurred in God’s name when followed this way.
Here is the great secret to faith. We need to come to know God. Of course, I just explained how our intellect and perspective makes this impossible, I am not talking about a theological exercise. I am talking about the revelatory experience that comes as we give our hearts over to God. I am talking about feeling the transformative power of his love. Actually, feeling is an inadequate word. This is life altering. It is something language simply fails to describe. I am talking about the sudden rush of insight and intelligence that flows into our minds as we study more about him, whether through scripture (dead prophets) or with actual conversation with another person (living prophets). This is having the eyes of our understanding opened. For me, this is the heart of my faith.
God has to be experienced. The great secret is that God interacts with us in this way, that he is actually mindful of us. This is our evidence. It is undoubtedly subjective, so scientifically unsatisfying, and yet there it is. Many today are quick to rationalize this as simple delusion. The problem is that this type of spiritual experience is at the heart of every vibrant religion in the World. Dismissing it as delusion is turning your back on the witness of a large chunk of humanity.
Either we are built to believe, (in which case, fighting belief accomplishes exactly what now?), or there is really something behind human experience with the divine. He wants us to know him. He wants us to understand what we can. My faith is that he is holding knowledge and understanding ready to pour upon us just as fast as we can bear it, that he sees what we can become if we will, and He is working actively to get us there.