Theme: Confidence in the Prophetic Gift
Leading Question: How does one develop confidence in the “prophetic gift”?
If one starts with the question of how one develops “confidence” in a person, or in anything, for that matter, these are important factors to consider:
1. Confidence on demand or by command? Confidence is not something that is automatic. It has to be built, it has to be won, step by step. It comes from experience and cannot simply be commanded. Jesus’ response to John the Baptist’s disciples holds the clue, “Go and tell John what you hear and see,” he told them. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Mat 11:4-5).
2. Expectations. If the person in whom we are hoping to have confidence fulfills our expectations, then our confidence begins to grow. And with every confirmation of our expectations, our confidence becomes stronger. At some point we become “hooked,” so to speak, and nothing can shake our confidence. The KJV of Job 13:15 puts it in its most extreme form: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Job is also the one who was able to declare, in spite of all his difficulties, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25). Yet this same Job, after serenely declaring, “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21), opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth (Job 3:1). Yet all of this is within the framework of “confidence.” Apparently, true confidence is nurtured by the freedom to confront the one in whom one has placed one’s confidence.
Against the backdrop of those two issues, two observations may have a bearing on the question of “confidence” in the prophetic gift:
A. Discovering the human. If one has “expected” the prophetic writings to be untouched by human hands, when the work of secretaries, copyists, and editors becomes obvious, as well as the prophet’s use of sources, the loss of confidence is not surprising.
B. Imagining an all-or-nothing perspective. Often at a subconscious level, devout believers assume that everything the prophet says really should apply to everyone. The result of such thinking is a burden that cannot be borne. Rather than revise one’s expectations, one simply turns away from the prophetic gift.
Towards a solution. The following steps may prove helpful in seeking to place the prophetic gift on solid ground, ground that enables confidence to grow naturally.
A. Let the Bible define the nature of inspiration and prophetic authority. Rather than trying to imagine how God should have inspired the prophets, we should simply come to the Bible and ask how God actually did inspire the prophets. That will provide a solid ground for understanding inspiration. We have no business deciding what to do with Ellen White’s inspiration if we have not done our homework in Scripture.
B. Follow the Berean example (Acts 17:11). In Acts, the Bereans became famous for asking the hard questions, not simply saying Amen! They studied the Scripture to see if what they were being taught was according to God’s Word. That spirit of inquiry is very important if one is to develop confidence in the prophetic word.
C. Jesus. In Matthew 5, Jesus clearly indicates that he accepted the Old Testament as fully authoritiative. At the same time, however, he was not afraid to draw contrasts between his teaching and that of the Old Testament. “You have heard… but I say” is a formula that he repeats six times, and in each case, Jesus’ intends to show that his way is “better” than the old way. Yet Jesus held the Old Testament to be fully authoritative. If we can recognize that everything in the prophetic word must be tested by the story of Jesus, we are on solid ground for developing confidence in the prophetic gift.
D. Miraculous proofs? Sometimes the Lord uses miracles to bring about belief. That is clearly the case in the Gospel of John: “These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah” (John 20:31). But believers have often been too eager to use miracles as proof. The sobering fact is that miracles are not a reliable final proof. Pharaoh’s men performed miracles at the time of the Exodus, for a time, keeping pace with every miracle Moses performed. At the second coming, Jesus will actually turn away some miracle-workers who claim that they performed miracles in Jesus’ name. Matthew records Jesus as saying to these in the day of judgment: “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers” (Mat 7:23). Yes, God does use miracles, but they probably aren’t his preferred means. So let us argue their relevance with great caution.