Prophecy: Imposed or Reported?
I have trodden the wine trough alone, and from the peoples there was no man with Me. (Isaiah 63:3)
I read this morning about Jesus' experience in the garden of Gethsemane where the disciples all slept when Jesus wanted and needed them to stay awake and pray for Him. This was one of the saddest times of interaction between humans and God because it was possibly the greatest opportunity in all of history where people literally had a chance to offer strength and encouragement to God in a very tangible way. That concept seems almost bizarre to put into words, but the humanity of Jesus was such that He could benefit from the joy strength offered Him from other humans through their attention and prayers.
But what caught my attention this morning in this situation was the fact that prophecy had predicted that this very thing would happen. There would not be a single person willing to support Jesus in any way during His greatest time of agony, when prayer and simply an awareness or even a faint appreciation of His inner agony could have gone a long way to psychologically assist Him to accept the poison cup from this world in order to save it. Instead, the disciples by their failure only added to the pain of that experience by their preference for dozing above their desire to share in Jesus' suffering by praying for Him as He had requested.
This is where many people have a real struggle with God's foreknowledge. It is so easy to assume that if something is prophesied in the Word of God that it is unavoidable, that somehow God will make it happen even if humans don't want it to or try to make it come out differently. In other words, even if the disciples had made the effort to stay awake and pray for Jesus to support Him, some believe that because it was prophesied that He would go through this alone God would not have allowed them to encourage Jesus in order to make the prophesy come to pass.
This kind of thinking easily shows up in all sorts of other ways in our lives. It is very present in the doctrine of predestination as viewed by many people. It is a fatalistic view of God in relation to our destiny and choices and leads many to believe that in fact we really don't have complete freedom of choice, that our lives are simply the acting out of some pre-determined script written for us from long ago and that there is nothing we can do to alter it.
When this view of God and life is embraced, it is easily reinforced using our filters when we read passages that refer to various containers created by a potter and their different intended uses. (see Jer. 18 and Rom. 9) It is assumed that God forms some people predetermined to fail, to be lost, to fulfill some role as an agent of sin so that their rebellion will by contrast reveal His glory more distinctly. Then on the other hand He forms some people to succeed, to be saved, to be predestined to enter into paradise, and nothing we can do can change the way we were pre-designed ahead of time or destined to experience.
Variations on this kind of thinking are actually much more widespread than we may suppose and subtly affect many areas of our feelings about God. But there is a deep and dangerously inherent flaw in this kind of reasoning that keeps us trapped under the spell of lies invented by Satan. For Satan is the father of lies and his chief goal is to permeate every aspect of our thinking, particularly about God, with false and distorted views of reality so that our lives will be ruined through the effect of those lies.
Lies permeate every aspect of our thinking whether we know it or not. That is not to say that everything we believe is not true. It simply means that everything has been compromised, infiltrated, undermined to some extent greater or lesser. Because we are born under sins spell from the very beginning we are unavoidably influenced more or less by myriads of lies built right into our psyche and reflected in our emotions and opinions about God.
This is precisely the problem that motivated God to send Jesus into this world in the first place. Jesus did not come to placate an angry God in order to save us from His wrath against us as most people believe. Jesus came to reveal to us the real truth about God's heart and to change our minds about how God feels toward us, not the other way around. Not until this begins to infiltrate our thinking can we begin to properly understand reality and the purpose and role of prophesy in our situations.
When we chose to believe that prophesy is somehow God's declaration of what is going to happen that is imposed and enforced on us no matter what, that viewpoint is propped up by a deeper misapprehension about God's fundamental attitude towards this earth. It paints God as one who is arbitrary in some respects, that God is jealous of maintaining His reputation to the point of forcing His words to come true than He is interested in showing us His love and favor and grace. It actually makes God out to be selfish in some respects while at the same time trying to deny that fact because it disagrees with other things God says about Himself.
So, what is the real role of prophesy? Why did God cause His prophets to foretell many things that in fact came to occur just the way He said they would? If God does not force His words and predictions to come true to in order to justify His reputation against our will, then how should we view these predictions and why did God give them to us to start with?
If we can try to bend our mind around to think in a way we are not used to, I think it can prove to be extremely helpful in this issue. If we can look at prophesy, at least the class of prophesy that is not conditional (there are conditional prophesies in spite of what some teach), as simply history observed and written in reverse, then it can start to become more obvious how God views time and events that take place in this world.
Since God is not stuck in the flow of time like we are and not limited to seeing life through the small peep-hole of the present instant like we have to, He has the advantage of being able to view all of history both past and future equally and without bias. This is very hard for us to twist our mind around to appreciate without introducing false ideas based on our own limitations. But it is necessary to do that if we ever want to reconcile the real truth about God's attitudes toward us and the role of prophesy in our lives and our history. God can at any time look at everyone and every event anywhere in the flow of time and describe what He sees happening there without a need to ever force it to happen.
Prophesy is simply God's description of what He observes happening at any point in what we view as the flow of history. The future events are no different from His perspective than past events. This is very hard for us to comprehend because we view the future as changeable as opposed to the past which we feel is unchangeable. And yet from God's perspective, the past as we perceive it can actually be just as flexible as the the future is in our thinking. This can be seen in some of the amazing transformations that occur in many inner healing ministries when God is allowed to come into a person's heart and transform tragic and painful memories into foundations of hope and joy by revealing His presence in those memories that was never felt there before. From that point on our perception of past trauma can be radically different than our belief about it before. In essence, through our choice to allow God's Spirit into those memories we have in fact changed our own history.
But this same ability to transform history is also true of the future, for God is not limited in the slightest by where something lies in the stream of time. Where the real problem lies is in our lack of willingness to believe that God can do far more than we can do without resorting to force or arbitrary imposition of His desires. For instance, when God declares our condition as sons and daughters of the Most High, it is our faith that must take these declarations and allow them to become real in our lives. Faith is the key that opens the door to God who can then supply the power and the reality of what He desires all of us to experience in salvation.
So, what can change our mistaken views that God might sometimes resort to force to make sure His prophesies come to pass? What can cleanse us from the terrible ideas that lurk in mistaken notions about predestination and predetermination of our futures based on fatalistic theories?
It is like everything else, it comes right back to a proper understanding of God's attitudes, His real character and particularly His fierce and unshakable protection of our freedom of choice. God will protect this fundamental freedom from all interference, even from His own potential interference as well. Because He knows that without this essential freedom to make our own choice freely it will be impossible for us to enter into the relationship of true love which He created us to have with Him and with each other.
So from God's perspective, prophesy is not something He is looking to make happen to keep His reputation in tact, but it is simply a reporting to us of the choices that He sees happening without any imposed interference on His part. God saw from the past what would happen in the garden of Gethsemane and simply reported it through the means of prophesy just the same as we might report observing something that happened in the past. Just because we report something we observed does not imply that we somehow had a part in forcing it to happen. From God's perspective the same applies to what He reports from the future, for the future and the past are equally the same and equally available for His unbiased observation.
What is far more important for us to grasp is the motives of the heart of God who is passionate to show us His intense love. God respects our choices but deeply desires us to make choices based on the real truths of how He loves and respects us instead of the lies about Him spread around by the father of lies and the enemy of our souls. God's desire is that every single person be saved, even those we often consider hopeless. But because God respects every person's freedom to choose for themselves, He will in the end allow each person to experience the natural consequences of the final choice as to how they are going to relate to His provision of salvation and the revelation of Himself to the world.
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17 NRSV)