Monday, September 8, 2008

Expired Prophesy

There really should be an expiration date on prophesy. Something like 200 years. If it hasn't happened in eight generations, then it's time to consider whether you're interpreting the prophesy correctly or if it was even a true prophesy to begin with.

Holding on to old prophesies that you've either interpreted wrong or weren't true prophesies in the first place can lead to real problems. This is how Jesus died.

When the Jews were in exile in Babylon, a guy made a prophesy that God would send something called "The Messiah" who would defeat the Babylonians, lead the Jews back to their homeland, rebuild the temple and, oh yeah, put them in charge of the world for an incredibly long period of time, like a thousand years.

Illustration: 'The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem' mosaic
by the Master of the Cappella Palatina

(Click to see full size)

This was an very important prophesy to the Jews in that it gave them hope at a time when things weren't looking too good for them. The last big prophesy they had about being lead out of Egypt turned out ok so they figured this one was just a matter of time.

The thing is, a lot of it actually did happen. They did return to their homeland, but it wasn't a "Messiah" that made it possible, it was the king of Persia, and they did rebuild the temple, but then again, no messiah, just a guy named Herod.

The part about the Jews being in control of the world didn't happen though. Pretty soon after their return, the Romans came and messed that up.

It didn't take long for the people to take the old prophesy about the messiah and transfer it to the situation with the Romans.

The Messiah was gonna show up, chase out the Romans, make the temple even better than before and put the Jews in charge of the world. Or so they thought.

So, along comes Jesus and people are saying he's this messiah guy. The rumor gets around so much that when Jesus comes to Jerusalem for Passover, people sing hymns and lay palm branches at the feet of his donkey. In their minds, Jesus is God's own Superman and the kicking of the Romans' asses is about to commence.

The thing is, the Romans also get word that Superman has come to town and so has the Sanhedrin, an organization that has a lot invested in maintaining the status quo. It doesn't take Jesus long to run afoul of both when he chased the money changers out of the temple.

So, Jesus gets arrested and the people are thinking "All-Right! The Great Roman Butt Kick is about to begin!"

Only, it didn't happen that way. Pilate brings Jesus before the people and he's been beaten, terribly beaten, and humiliated, and the people see that Jesus isn't the fulfillment of what they saw as the prophesy and he isn't going to free them of the Romans or the Sanhedrin and they turn on him. Crucify Him! Crucify Him! They shout.

Illustraton: Ecce Homo ("Behold the Man")
by Antonio Ciseri
(Click to see full size)

So the Romans do crucify him to show the people not to hold out hope for their prophesy.

They do hold out hope though, and there are several serious Jewish uprisings before the Romans move in, destroy the temple and exile the Jews from their own land--forever.

Even today, there are many Jews who won't set foot in Israel because they are waiting for the Messiah to come and put them in charge of the world first. Fortunately, there were a lot more Jews who at the beginning of the last century, said "forget this, I'm not waiting anymore" and moved themselves back into their own homeland.

The Christians and the Muslims too have prophesies, nearly two thousand years old now, that says God himself will kill everybody else and put them in charge of the world--and many, well-meaning, god-fearing people are waiting for exactly that to happen.

Can you imagine that? Decent, earnest, kind people, seriously waiting for God himself to massacre billions of people and put them in charge. I don't mind telling you it boggles my mind. I know these people, they're not murderers, and yet, that's what they believe.

The thing is, we obviously either read the prophesy wrong or it wasn't a true prophesy in the first place. God isn't going to step in and straighten everything out--WE have to. God isn't going to pick amongst us his favorite and put them in control of the world, WE have do our best to share control of the world.

There's no shame in admitting we were wrong about a prophesy. It doesn't weaken the position of the religion as a whole. Everybody is wrong sometimes, and when you're talking about something as vastly complex as prophesy, being wrong sometimes has to be expected.

The belief in these Eschatological prophesies keep us from doing what we must, for ourselves, for our world and for God. It's much easier to believe God will step in and do it for us, but, at this point, it's very unlikely that he will, if he ever intended to in the first place. God has been leading us into taking more and more responsibility for ourselves since the beginning. Why would he suddenly decide to give up on that and fix it all himself?

I'm not just picking on Christians here. There are a lot of Jews and Muslims waiting for the same thing. Jesus, an innocent man, died because people held on to these prophesies. Two thousand people died on 9/11 because somebody thought it would bring about the end of the world and God would step in and straighten everything out.

Isn't that enough? Do you really think this is what God wants?

It's just not gonna happen that way folks. Isn't two-thousand years long enough to realize that? There's not going to be an "end of the world" or a "new paradise" or "rapture" and it's time for earnest people of faith to cast off this nonsense and begin doing what we must to repair the damage it's caused.

True faith makes us strong, but false hope and false prophesy makes us blind and weak and petty.

Illustration: The Revelation of St John: The Four Riders of the Apocalypse
By Albrecht Dürer
(click to see full size)

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