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Saturday, January 28, 2017

On the Idea of Prophecy


First I don’t want to suggest I believe anyone can predict the future. At least I see no reason to assert that this is possible. There may be time at some other time to explore this question. But that's not my task right now. I'm not here interested in whether there is such a thing as prophecy or even such a things as God. I am interested in the idea of prophecy and the idea of God.

I think the question of prophecy is worth thinking about regardless of whether you believe in it. According to people who believe in prophecy (and it may be useful to remind ourselves that “predicting the future” was not the principle task of Old Testament prophets) certain people are privileged to foretell future events because God, who exists outside of time and therefore knows the future, tells them what’s going to happen. God, who has already "seen" the future, runs back down the path to give report. God does this in order to affect the present. The problem then is obvious: the future must be predetermined. (An insuperable paradox.) Everything is fixed and you can’t change it. Even if God doesn’t reveal the future, God knows the future and therefore our actions are not free and therefore we are not responsible for them.

The complications that emerge from this claim are legion on both sides and have been amply discussed for centuries because it’s such a wonderful puzzle and people like to ferret around in puzzles. You can work this problem out on both sides and wander down arteries and capillaries and rivers and tributaries and along branches and twigs for hours and hours thinking through the implications.

I don’t want to talk about those things. The problem as I see it that hasn’t been explored (as far as I know) is the problem of language. The way we have to talk about the past and the future and time in general, the way we have to envision God’s being outside of time as though time is an egg God could manipulate with his hands and see from every angle. This is homocentric thinking. We see the world as though the world were made for us to see it (the roses have the look of roses that are looked at). The physical and superphysical universe. But the truth is we literally don’t know what it means for God to “see” the future. We do know that there is no “future” for God. But we don’t know what that means or how that could be. So we place our eyes in God’s head and our way of being into Being itself. The fundamental problem that makes all the entertaining speculation about time possible is our inability to come up with the terms that would be necessary to actually explore the problem. There’s nothing that can be done about this. We can’t see what we can’t see. There are things we can’t imagine not because of the limits of our imagination but because of the limits of our bodies, our senses, our information inputs, and therefore of our language.

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