Monday, August 30, 2010

Prophets and History

There is no secular history.
Fr. David Sincerbox

Orthodox Christians believe that the world – this world – is the arena in which God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – works out the salvation of mankind and indeed the restoration of the entire created order (cf Rom 8). History is the record, in time, of that work. Thus, as Anglican deacon, Fr. David, rightly says, “There is no secular history.” If, as we pray, the Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth is everywhere present and filling all things, then God is present in all times, working through all events for the reconciliation of the world. No event – past or present – is devoid of God. No event – past or present – may be understood apart from God. This is the wisdom of the prophets, to see God’s movement in and through history for the renewal of all things – not secular history, but holy history.

Joel is a case in point. He sees the same devastating plague of locusts that his countrymen witness, but he discerns more. They see insects; he sees the army of God. They see natural disaster; he sees holy chastisement. They see starvation; he sees fasting. They see hopelessness; he sees blessing:

25I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.
26 "You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.And my people shall never again be put to shame. 27 You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God and there is none else.And my people shall never again be put to shame.

28 "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit (Joel 2:25-29, ESV).

They see secular history; he discerns holy history, the hand of God at work in the world and for the world. This is the unique charism of the prophets: to discern the presence and activity of God in the ordinary and extraordinary events of the day and to awaken us to the eternal dimensions of history. “Thus says the Lord,” is the prophets’ response to all history. Picking out his words distinctly from amidst the surrounding clamor is the gift and vocation of the prophets.

On the evening of September 11, 2001 my wife was scheduled to officiate at Evening Prayer in a large, Episcopal parish. Generally at such services the attendance ran somewhere between 3 to 5 people, including the officiant and lector – but not on that night. On that night the chapel was full to overflowing. People came looking for a prophet. People came to hear someone say, “Thus says the Lord.” People came looking for the presence and activity of God in the extraordinary events of the day, looking for the eternal dimensions of the present-moment tragedy. That same scene was repeated at churches throughout the country and at churches abroad. In that moment, in all such moments, the world believes – or at least hopes – that my brother David is right, that there is no secular history. For, if history is secular, then it is without meaning and without redemptive power.

Where is God in a terrorist attack? Where is God when hurricane after hurricane and then earthquake devastates further the already destitute Haitian people? Where is God in the midst of the rising floodwaters in New Orleans, Nashville, Pakistan? “Where is God?” is the right question to ask, then and now and always, just as it was the right question to ask on that day outside Jerusalem when the son of man and Son of God cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Listen and the prophets will answer. Listen for their, “Thus says the Lord.” God is present in all the tragedies of all of history – present in the person of the Crucified One who united with his suffering all the suffering of the world. God is present in all of history – there is no secular history – acting with a love beyond our comprehension for the salvation of man and the restoration of all things. So the prophets say, and so we believe.

Jerusalem is destroyed. The temple is razed. The people are in exile in Babylon. Where is God in this history? And Jeremiah – a true prophet – speaks:

10"For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jer 29:10-14, ESV).

This is the essence of the prophetic message. “Thus says the Lord.” I have plans for you, plans for a future and a hope. History is not without meaning. Tragedy is not without redemption. There is no secular history. Repent, seek me, call upon my name and I will be found.

11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets (Eph 4:11a, NKJV). Indeed. Amen.

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