There is a man who stands on a street corner across from the mall. The mall is in the nicer part of town, surrounded by money and affluence. The man standing on the corner holds a megaphone and a picket sign. He is telling the world his prophecy.
This man claims he has heard the word of God, spoken to him directly. He feels it is his duty to show the public what he has learned, railing against society to try to set us all back on the right path.
At face value, a man claiming to have heard the voice of God and was inspired to share it would cause us to pause and think. But, alas, this is not an original idea. Almost every college campus in the country has a guy like this, raging against homosexuality and blasphemy and sins of all kinds. While these individuals claim a unique revelation delivered to them personally, they certainly are falling into place perfectly with a stereotype.
This individual came up during a class discussion in my Prophets course. While he and so many others are trying to recreate the impassioned social critique of the Biblical prophets, we came to the conclusion that he has missed one essential ingredient of what made the prophets effective: access to those in power. Most Biblical prophets had the ear of kings and leaders, and thus were able to have an impact on society. Instead of a suburban street corner or a college campus square, these modern-day “prophets” would be better served at city hall or in the governor’s mansion.
One of the questions we barely ever touch was whether or not these people actually DO communicate with God. In many ways, it could be argued that it doesn’t matter. The individuals almost certainly believe for themselves that they have received some kind of divine revelation, or at the very least feel somehow commanded to speak to the public. The public, meanwhile, doesn’t listen. Catcalls and confrontations are more common than internalization and dialogue. For most people, their notion of God does not work like that. They don’t want to believe in a god that speaks to them through a megaphone-wielding antagonist.
And yet, despite our use of this radical as a counter-balancing case of prophecy, I have to acknowledge that, on one level, he has been at least partially successful. By thinking about God and how I feel God communicating with me, the street-corner preacher has caused me to think in ways that I hadn’t before. The fact that rabbinical school students used him as an example to talk about divine communication is no small victory. Whether or not God spoke to him, for some unbelievable and unintended reason, I’m trying to figure out what God is trying to say to me.