I think it is safe to say that there are still prophetic voices out there in the world today, probably not being paid much attention. I think it is also clear that there are many people who get their five minutes of fame by predicting doom over one issue or another and they seem to be paid a great deal of attention.
I got the idea for this post a while ago while watching When Harry Met Sally with my daughters. As he states himself, Harry has a dark side. Particularly in the early part of the movie Harry makes many pronouncements which, while not necessarily without basis in reality, would suck the enjoyment out of almost any moment! For instance;
Harry Burns: You take someone to the airport, it’s clearly the beginning of the relationship. That’s why I have never taken anyone to the airport at the beginning of a relationship.
Sally Albright: Why?
Harry Burns: Because eventually things move on and you don’t take someone to the airport and I never wanted anyone to say to me, How come you never take me to the airport anymore?
Sally Albright: Its amazing. You look like a normal person but actually you are the angel of death.
Later he and Sally actually discuss this tendency to the dark side;
Sally Albright: I have just as much of a dark side as the next person.
Harry Burns: Oh, really? When I buy a new book, I read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side.
A doomsayer is “one given to forebodings and predictions of impending calamity” (http://www.merriam-webster.com) Harry, is a doomsayer! Another good candidate for the title of doomsayer would be Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh;
“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning,” he said. “Which I doubt,” said he.”Why, what’s the matter?””Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.””Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.”Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”
If predicting calamity is what it takes to be a doomsayer, then why do we not have a section in the Bible after the Pentateuch and Psalms and Wisdom Literature called Doomsayings? If you read the beginning of many of the stories in the books of the prophets, they begin with warnings of catastrophe about to befall the people of Israel who have strayed from the ways of the Lord in one way or another. Predictions of pandemics, military defeat, destruction of the Temple, and being taken into captivity abound! I’m not sure I’d be in a hurry to invite a prophet to dinner at my house for fear they may have just such a message for me.
A prophet is,“one who utters divinely inspired revelations: as a often capitalized : the writer of one of the prophetic books of the Bible b capitalized : one regarded by a group of followers as the final authoritative revealer of God’s will <Muhammad, the Prophet of Allah> 2: one gifted with more than ordinary spiritual and moral insight; especially : an inspired poet 3: one who foretells future events : predictor” (http://www.merriam-webster.com)
The fundamental difference is that a prophet is divinely inspired. The messages prophets share with the people around them are the words of God. Some prophets in the past were pretty unhappy to be called upon to give the message they were told. Jonah really didn’t want to help out the people of Nineveh and even ran away, but that didn’t end well for him and he delivered his message in the end. There are stories of prophets hiding in caves in the wilderness to avoid crowds who were out to get them. In 1 Kings 19 we read about Elijah, having challenged the prophets of Baal and won, ran away to a cave on Mt. Sinai to hide from Queen Jezebel who had vowed to kill him.
Regardless of the message a prophet may carry to us, our problem remains. How can we tell when we are hearing from a true prophet and not a doomsayer? Recently there was an individual who “prophesied” the coming of the rapture. He claimed that the date and time were to be found written in Bible. Many people were convinced by this prediction, some even selling all they had. Many took it as a joke and there were many photos posted on Twitter of people’s clothing laid out as if they had just vanished from within them.