Information Overload

It is tempting to just walk away from all of the noise. But if we stop listening, and stop responding, nothing will change; things will not get better with neglect.

The Scripture

Amos 7:7–17
retold by Deborah

Amos told the people: “I saw the Lord standing alongside a straight and sturdy wall holding a plumb line. ‘Amos,’ he asked, ‘what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb line.’

“Then the Lord said, ‘I am holding a plumb line up to my people; I will never again give them a pass; their shrines will be destroyed, their idols smashed, towns will be leveled, and I will bring destruction to this empire.’”

Then the senior priest sent a message to the king, “Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the capital city; this nation cannot tolerate what he says. For Amos has said, ‘The king will die in battle, and the people will be carried away in chains.’”

The chief priest said to Amos, “O ‘prophet,’ go over to our enemies, collect your bribes and make your predictions there; but don’t you ever talk that way here again. Our king is safe from criticism; this is the nation’s faith.”

Amos replied, “I am not a prophet, nor was my father or his father before him. I have herds and orchards to tend — but the Lord took me away from all that and told me, ‘Go, warn My people. Pay attention to these words.”

“Because you say, ‘Don’t criticize the government, and don’t predict troubles for the nation,’ God says: ‘Your wife will be attacked in the street, your sons and your daughters will be killed, your land divided up, and you yourself will die in a ditch, and the nation will be lost.’ ”

Photo of a flower

Reflection by Deborah Beach Giordano
July 5, 2016

A Terrible Message

Yow. That’s a heck of a prediction Amos makes: the king will die in battle, the army will be defeated, the country will fall into the hands of its enemies and the people sent into exile.

It’s hardly surprising that the chief priest tells him to get out of town.

No one wants to hear bad news, and nobody likes criticism. At the end of the day we’re tired; we just want to relax.

We want life to be easy, peaceful, and free from complications. And we actively resist any information to the contrary.

But what if things aren’t going well? What if we’re headed for trouble? As disturbing as it can be, we need to listen to the divinely-sent “prophetic voices” that warn us of dangers that lie ahead.

Poor Communication Skills

The problem is that prophets are rarely tactful. Passionately concerned, they speak boldly, bluntly, harshly, insistently, desperate to communicate the disasters they foresee occurring if things remain as they are. In short: they just won’t shut up.

Jeremiah's sewerProphets are good at shouting warnings, but not so good at making themselves heard. No one wants to be yelled at, and the incessant harping on the same issue bores and irritates their hearers. On top of that, they rarely have anything nice to say; it’s always along the lines of “Prepare to meet thy doom!”

Generally, the more the prophets carry on, the less their messages are heard. They may initially be perceived as mildly interesting or even amusing characters, but soon become annoying, embarrassing public nuisances, constantly criticizing the government, the ruler’s conduct, or the behavior of the population at large — and people get sick of it. Often the prophet ends up being banished, or chased out of town, or, in Jeremiah’s case, tossed into the sewer.

It’s no wonder that most prophets resist God’s call; theirs is a difficult, thankless task.

Prophetic (in)accuracy

Another problem with prophecy is that there are no guarantees. Sometimes prophets are wrong: sometimes they mistake their own biases for “God’s word”; sometimes their predictions don’t come true; sometimes what may seem like a disaster may be a disguised blessing. (When the fighting ended and the elite were marched off into exile, life may have improved greatly for the common folk in Israel.)

Jeremiah by MichelangeloProphets are not infallible, although — conveniently for their reputations — for most of the biblical prophets, generally only their accurate predictions made it into the Scriptures. It helps when your followers are the ones who keep the records.

Prophets are folks who are deeply concerned about public policy, with the way the nation is headed, or with the culture in which they live. They complain about what is wrong, and insist that they know a better way. Often they are right, sometimes they are wrong. Only a few people pay attention to what they say, and still fewer believe them.

Contemporary Terminology

We might do better to call prophets by the modern term: “critics.”

This is not to demean the prophets, but to put them into context. Few of the biblical prophets were esteemed in their own lifetimes; some were tolerated, many were ignored or mocked or written off as insane. And there were many beyond the ones whose names we know; the ancient landscape was positively teeming with them. There must have been literally thousands and thousands of prophecies proclaimed throughout the region.

Then, as today, the people experienced an “information overload”: lots of reports, lots of criticism, lots of claims, lots of shouting. Who to believe? What to do?

It is tempting to just walk away from all of the noise; it can feel overwhelming. But if we stop listening, and stop responding, nothing will change; things will not get better with neglect.

Discernment

All human constructs can be improved upon: buildings, businesses, committees, cities, churches, designs, devices, policies, systems, governments — and our lives themselves. The challenge is to determine what aspects are wanting, and which are worth preserving. For that task we have been given the gift of prophets. But, as we know, not every prophet’s predictions are accurate, and not every prophet brings the true “word of God”; some have made a god of their own fears and prejudices, and some are simply mistaken.

We are faced with the difficult process of discerning what is right.

It means that we listen to the critics: we must strive to hear what is really being said; what are the concerns that drive their beliefs; what are the issues beneath the rhetoric. It means we may have to face ugly and upsetting facts; perhaps of genuine troubles, but at the very least, the reality that some people are truly frightened and distressed. Our humanity and our compassion — and our faith! — requires it.

Further still, we must discern what is being asked for: does the proposed solution help and heal — or hurt and harm; merely satisfying a desire for revenge? And if we find ourselves caught up — if the plan lights a fire under us, is it a holy, illuminating flame fueled by love and compassion, or does it burn with rage? Does it infuse us with joy and hope, or hate?

The Work ← of the Kingdom

Jesus said to his apostles, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” (Luke 10:2). He said we are to be workers in the field, not picnickers in the park. We are called to do our part to establish a holy, peaceful and just world for all people.

lambs

At that same time the Lord also said, “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3) — so we can consider ourselves warned: we need to be on our A-game, all of the time. As faithful followers of Jesus we must be prayerful, thoughtful, compassionate, and alert to what is going on all around us.

Be wise, be gentle, and listen carefully — with your heart.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah

This Week’s Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Who are the prophetic voices in our world?
How do they help or hinder your life in Christ?