Now for an unlikely term (or concept), another dimension to prophecy, we need to add to this discussion is “suffering”. Of course you are deeply familiar with suffering; everyone is. Some more than others, but no one goes through life never suffering. Yet there are some mysteries to suffering that a prophet needs to consider, and suffering is the part false prophets almost universally avoid.
If you are one of those who sleeps on the hard, cold pavement in the alleys and streets, then you know a lot about suffering. In fact you have a lot to teach the rest of us about suffering. There is a deep irony here, and this may well be why you read a book like this. It helps make sense of the hard life you are already engaged in.
Suffering and God’s Will
We need to see how suffering fits in the economy of God. This is precisely the thing you need for empowerment and for insight into prophecy. An examination and embrace of suffering (and humility) will illuminate our path.
Consider this: One of the key ways human societies try to order the world is through the elimination of suffering. The idea is that once we establish a certain kind of world-order, then no one will have to suffer anymore; then we will finally achieve utopia.
In the last century, we saw two major expressions of world-order that competed against each other to achieve that very goal. One we called “Communism” and the other “Capitalism”. The competition itself proved to cause enormous suffering all over the world for most of the century, and ironically both expressions promised to eliminate it and usher in utopia.
Neither one did what they promised, quite the opposite, actually. But Capitalism emerged victorious over Communism in its ability to establish itself as a world power. However, winning the competition did not establish the utopia, and in fact, Capitalism has proven to be a rather shaky world-order ever since.
I do not wish to chase political bunnies in our present discussion, though. At the moment, I merely point out that humanity world-wide has attempted mightily to eliminate suffering from the world by means of avoiding it by use of differing strategies. Of course that is an overly simplistic statement because we actually use fear, death, chaos, and evil as tools for eliminating suffering in a bid to avoid it. Every bomb ever dropped or every rocket ever launched against an enemy is sufficient to prove my point. Therefore, the desire to avoid suffering is a paradox that the prophet must come to terms with.
The analysis I offer here basically indicts the whole American culture in the courts of heaven. To come to this worldview is to come to a lonely place in this culture. Practically no one, certainly not the rich – but not even the poor (not even those who sleep out in the cold) see these issues from this heavenly point of view.
This is because of appearances. Again, this has everything to do with image – either bearing God’s image or constituting our own. And even though all the power of Capitalism and American-might come to bear on the problem of suffering, it not only persists, but, often enough, it creates more.
Suffering never really goes away, but frequently we settle for the mere appearance of self-assurance, self-reliance, and /or pride on the surface of things (or conversely we play the victim card and claim a scorned moral high road). This is an issue of image and imagination. Underneath is suffering while pride masquerades on the surface like diversionary propaganda.
It turns out, though, that God suffers deeply from his rebellious creation. And the image of this God is an image of suffering love. The tough part, for the prophet, is that the prophetic call on your life to bear his image is a call to suffer.
This means that the message of God is counter-cultural. It always has been – even from the beginning of human societies (Gen. 11:7-8). Societies of fallen humanity have always been corrupt and always fall under the judgment of God who has a different world-order than those self-serving, passion-avoiding creatures promote. They will not achieve utopia by those means within God’s creation. They would have to leave this universe and establish their own to do it. This means that the message God gives you will not be received warmly – not most of the time anyway. The call of the prophet is a call both to suffer and to call others to suffer also. That is precisely what “the world” does not want.
And so we need to dive into the depths of the mysteries of suffering. Not that we will have clear understanding of its depths, but that we find the hope within it all the same. And that will always be mysterious.
Suffering is not, innately, a form of vanity (James 1:2-4). Quite the opposite actually. Though it is possible to suffer in vain, and it does happen often enough. That is a real risk one always faces no matter what anyway. But let’s face it (rather than avoid it); faith involves risk! But suffering is actually foundational and vital to the will of God. God does his mysterious work in and through our suffering. Prophets need to know this.
We will discuss this notion in more depth later, but I do not want to make such a strong assertion without at least citing some biblical support. Perhaps the premier passage for this comes from Isaiah 53, but I personally find Philippians 2:5-11 quite instructive on the role of suffering in the economy of God.
Faith vs. “Success”
Here’s the thing: We will be tempted to reach for “success” by means of our own engineering, but that is exactly the temptation Jesus faces (Matt. 4:3-11/Luke 4:3-12) along with all world leaders. Jesus, on the other hand, chose to embrace a life of loving, self-sacrifice and die – a prophetic image of God’s kingship in a crown of thorns!
This vocation will drive your prayer life. And soon enough you will discover that you are not called to be “successful” but rather to be faithful. Ultimately God wills success for his cause in the final analysis, and I do not mean to cast doubt on that for a moment. His success, though, will not come by virtue of godless engineering or manipulation, but rather by trusting him to carry us through suffering (I Pet. 2:21-24; 4:12-14).