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The Problem With Prophets

  • DALE AHLQUIST

The world has never done a real good job of listening to prophets.


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The Old Testament prophets didn't have a lot of success throughout the long history of Israel.  They came along regularly and warned people to repent.  Several of them were stoned to death for their troubles, and many were treated in an abrupt manner.  But the people of Israel, for their part, were only reminded of what the prophets had tried to tell them when they watched their kingdom be destroyed and were led away naked, enslaved, and utterly ashamed.  The mighty were fallen.  It was a stark contrast to the life they had once known when they had settled for luxury, neglected the poor, and were embroiled with political division.  They were proud and consumed with distractions and lies.  They lost everything when they not only took their eyes off God, but disdained the things of God, and ignored the words of God sent by his messengers, the prophets.

The only well-known case of a people heeding the words of a prophet and repenting is the story of Jonah and the city of Nineveh.  But that story is more famous for the reluctant prophet than for the repentant people.  And what is even more interesting is that the story still doesn't end happily.  I'm not talking about Jonah, who goes through a major bellyache with God; I'm talking about Nineveh.  If you knew your Old Testament (which you don't), and if you knew the story of the prophet Nahum (which you don't), you would know that a few years after Jonah succeeded in getting Nineveh to repent and back on the right track, they returned to their sinful, godless ways, that the prophet Nahum was sent to warn them of their imminent destruction, and that they didn't listen to him.  The city of merchants was destroyed.  "They stumbled over the corpses."

It turns out that repentance is something you might have to do more than just once.  It's hard to imagine, I know.

The usual reason given for not reading the prophets is that we don't understand them.  Of course, the real reason is precisely the opposite.  We don't read them because we know exactly what they're talking about.  The descriptions are painfully plain and familiar, and we find ourselves the ones in the position of being told to repent.  And our response is a critical analysis of the ancient text in light of questions regarding the integrity of the transmission of the original manuscripts and the evidential corruption via oppressive patriarchal constructs, as well as monkish interpolation.

So much for the old prophets.  Is there a more recent one, who precedes us not by 20 or 30 centuries but by just one?  Someone who accurately predicted our current state of anarchy with its moral chaos, sexual chaos, racial chaos, and societal chaos?

Pause.  Hmm.

Well, there was G. K. Chesterton.

In his 1908 novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, a group of anarchists are actively trying to undermine everything normal in civilization, driven by a philosophy that hates property, hates marriage, and hates life itself.

He predicted that "the march of human progress" would be contraception, then abortion, then infanticide.

He said that the result of frivolous divorce would be frivolous marriage.

He said that the exaggeration of sex would lead to sexlessness, and that one of the problems of the modern world is that each sex is trying to be both sexes at once.

He said that birth control, which was first promulgated under the mantle of eugenics, was racist.  It was an attempt to keep the "undesirable" from having children.

He said that America would always pay a heavy price for the importation and enslavement of Africans and that slavery would always be the "crime and catastrophe of American history."  Still, he warned, "People are always prone to talk nonsense about race."

He warned about a worship of nature that would make us unnatural, a worship of health that would make us unhealthy, and a worship of man that would make us unmanly.

He warned about a worship of nature that would make us unnatural, a worship of health that would make us unhealthy, and a worship of man that would make us unmanly.

He warned that the modern world was in danger of living under a tyranny of big government and big business, and that the common man would lose his freedoms one by one.  He warned that we would be slaves to our machines, slaves to pleasure, slaves to hustle, and slaves to science.  He warned that public education would increase the power of the state and decrease the authority of parents and the Church.  "Take away the god," he said, "and the government becomes God."

And he said that we had lost our idea of repentance.

While prophets don't enjoy great popularity (especially at the local level and on account of the complication that they are only proved right afterwards), there are still a faithful few who follow them in their own time and place, who obey the Word of God, who keep His holy sacrifices, and who care for the outcasts because they are outcasts themselves.  Elijah thought he was alone, but he wasn't.  Chesterton is ignored by the world, but there are a few who remember what he said and who know that he was right and still is right.  The faithful few can grow — even quickly and quietly.  The world isn't all weeds; wheat grows among the tares.

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Acknowledgement

ahlquist Dale Ahlquist.  "The Problem With Prophets." Crisis Magazine (September 17, 2020).

Reprinted with permission of Crisis Magazine.

The Author

ahlquistkofhgregular Dale Ahlquist is the President of the American Chesterton Society.  He is the author of Knight of the Holy Ghost: A Short History of G.K. Chesterton The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton, In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton, Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton, G.K. Chesterton â The Apostle of Common Sense, and is the publisher of Gilbert Magazine, editor of The Annotated Lepanto, and associate editor of the Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton. He has written and lectured on Chesterton so much that he has not bothered getting a real job. He lives near Minneapolis with his wife and six children.

Copyright © 2020 Crisis Magazine
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