• Devin O'Donnell

The Prophetic Imagination in a new year of old ills

Last spring, we saw that Covid was the perhaps the most challenging phenomenon with which to deal wisely and safely. But by the end of last year and into the summer (if one can really call it that), we saw that Covid actually may not be the most dangerous threat for society in the year 2020. With the riots and protests erupting across the U. S., and with the solidarity movements of BLM and the like to continue to gather momentum, it's difficult to know how Christians are supposed to act.

This is where the role of the prophetic imagination comes in. First, a healthy and free social order must be wedded to the truth. In John 17:17, Jesus prays, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth." This is an interesting situation: the Word of God tells us that word of God is truth. Without getting too deep into the theology overload here, we need only note that God's word is "truth" and the standard of it.

This is perhaps why Scripture tells us that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). What does the hearing of the word of God do? We know the word of God "is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). Thus, the word of God cuts, slices, and dices, just as truth cuts, slices, and dices. The vulgate says that the word of God (the Bible to us) is a discretor, that is, a "discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." To answer our original question, this means that the word of God "separates" and pulls things apart. This is why God calls His people "saints," those sanctified and "separated" from the world.

To be separated is not always popular. But it is good. This is what God calls the "beauty" of holiness. Think of creation, where God by his word divides the day from the night, the waters above and the waters below, mankind into male and female, etc. God separates things for the fulfillment of particular purpose, and he uses words to accomplish this, because words can cut and shape and form and move to their proper end. Thus, the prophetic ministry operates on the "hearing" of God's word, and the word in good soil will produce good and beautiful fruit.

Solomon is a good example of how "hearing" the word is essential for wisdom. After being established as king, Solomon famously prays for wisdom. To consider the facts and make a right judgement is the operation of wisdom, and kings need wisdom to rule. But Solomon actually prays for is a "heart of understanding" (1 Kings 3:9), and the Hebrew root here is "shama" (שֹׁמֵֽעַ), which is that glorious verb "to hear." Solomon is essentially asking for a "hearing heart." This is not just a reference to the great shama of Deuteronomy 6. It is recognition that his power and authority as a king should be kept in check by another Biblical office: the office of the prophet, who's job is to be the "mouthpiece" of God not only to the people but also especially to the King. This is why our classical Christian school is so critical. We are trying to pass on to the next generation the blessings of God, and one of those blessings is the courage to speak the truth, to possess the "prophetic imagination" that catches the conscience of the king.

The Plague at Ashdod 1630 Oil on canvas, 148 x 198 cm Musée du Louvre, Paris

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