Sunday, August 16, 2009

Prophetic Vision

2 Kings 1-2

The first part of 2 Kings tells the rest of the story of Elijah. First, the next king of Israel, Ahaziah, falls through a lattice and is injured. He sends prophets to Baal, to find out whether he will recover or die. Elijah hears of this, and is horrified that the king is looking to Baal rather than the true God of Israel, and sends word to the king that because of this, he will die. And so the king dies (2 Kings, Chapter 1).

The final story about Elijah is his dramatic death, as witnessed by Elisha. A chariot of fire and horses of fire come, and Elijah ascends in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha inherits his powers and becomes his successor (2 Kings, Chapter 2).

But you have to read the stories to get the full effect. Both of these stories are dramatic and filled with supernatural demonstrations of God's power expressed through the prophetic voices of Elijah and Elisha. Sometimes the power harms or destroys the people who are opposed to the true God (Ahaziah, the first two companies of men sent by Ahaziah to talk with Elijah, and the boys who taunt Elisha). Other times the power just dazzles (the parting of the waters). Other times, the power brings forth something clearly good (the purification of water).

When I was a child, I would watch movies about Bible stories. These movies portrayed such supernatural events literally and dramatically. I remember feeling sad and confused about why such events used to happen but now no longer happen. I remember thinking that it is so much harder now to figure out what is right and what is wrong, because God does not give messages so clearly any more.

Children often do see the world as infused with magic, and so the supernaturalism in Biblical stories is very believable. (Watching movie portrayals probably helps make the stories believable!)

In today's modern world, we expect children to reckon with reality and lose this sense of "magic" as part of normal maturation. So my memory can be seen as a transition to that more "realistic" understanding of the world. A lot of people lose their faith at this point. They feel disillusioned at the realization that these stories could not really have been "true," and then question all of what they are taught about religious faith. "It's all mere supersition," they conclude.

But somehow the path I took turned out to be different (though not unique). Somehow it did not occur to me that my noticing that life was different now than how it was portrayed in the Bible suggested that there is no God. Instead, I seized upon the idea that God was simply speaking to us differently now. And so I began a quest to understand how God speaks to us now.

When, later, I came upon Quakers, and found a whole community who still believes that God has come to speak to his people himself (to quote George Fox), I was amazed. This community affirmed my quest, and also provided access to more perspectives on the subject, and to an experiential process that hones our powers of discernment.

Now I do see the world as infused with supernatural drama. The supernaturalism in the Bible does not seem fantastical and hard to believe. Instead, I find myself nodding, and thinking, "yes, that is how it is." Maybe these things don't always happen literally and exactly as portrayed, but the sense of drama, power, and meaning that they portray does reflect a spiritual backdrop to everyday events that many people may miss, but nevertheless is really there and quite apparent to the discerning eye.

I think that this is what prophetic vision really is: the ability to perceive the spiritual significance of everyday life.


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  2. I like your style, although you let much slide, like the terrible story of the kids being killed by bears for making fun of the phrophet.

    Looking at these stories as an adult has been quite the experience for me as well, now I read them to my kids in the same vein as any other fairy tell.

    Obviously any mystical story today would never have an ascention take place as we know what is up there, and it's not heaven, but rather no oxygen.