Beyond the Pain of the Present
John Dryden, 17th century English poet, once wrote, “Good people starve for want of impudence.” It is a prophet’s mantra. Prophecy, Dryden implies, is not simply a matter of mindless risk. It is, at base, a matter of nourishing bold faith in the human ability to make God’s message come true.
The fascinating—and demanding—dimension of biblical prophecy is that it is God’s way, it seems, always to send the weakest among us to do what must be done: Moses to save the Israelites from slavery; Esther to save the Jewish people from King Ahasuerus; little David to fell the giant Goliath; and we ourselves now, to complete the work only begun by the Creator but forever threatened with failure without us.
In that plan for human development of the divine enterprise lies the place of faith in prophecy. Those who would otherwise do little or nothing about social imbalance find themselves in the face of the gap between the human and the humane, between the Divine Will for humankind and the human failures to achieve it, impelled to take a stand.
There is no choice now. Something must be done and someone must do it. Somebody must do something—and that leaves us, leaves me. But how does it happen that the likes of us, tongue-tied and reluctant, suddenly move from silence to public speech? Simple: faith leads us from the dregs of despair to trust again in possibility. It takes the fear that comes from insight and turns it into the conviction that the world must change, that I must change, that I must have something to do with changing the world. Faith in God takes us from the fear of public recrimination that grips us to the courage it takes to do God’s will for the public good.
Indeed, faith is the single gift that makes prophecy real. Without faith, no prophet could ever have ventured beyond the pain of the present. Without faith, there is simply nowhere to go in the midst of a breakdown, other than back to an unacceptable past.
The problem is that the gift of tomorrow does not come complete. Tomorrow is the gift we are given to create for ourselves. In that awareness, in the depths of that kind of faith lies the energy—the reason—for prophecy. Because we know the will of God for us, the prophet must demand it. If something is to be done, we will have to be the people who do it.
Faith drives us on, trusting in a future we cannot see but are bound to pursue if our own humanity is ever to come to the fullness creation designed it to be. Now doubt about it, the prophetic vision demands more than insight alone. It demands a steel-willed determination to do something, however little, to bring that awareness to life. If the world in which we live is to be a better one, our spirituality must be about more than seeing what needs to be done. It’s about standing up and speaking out, the lone voice in the room, if necessary, the voice that others ignore or laugh at.
Now on the strength of our faith and the vision it drives in us, we call the faithful to see what we see, to step to its drum, to begin to raise up a new way of being alive.