On Prophecy Codes and Personal Identity
My trip to the mailbox this afternoon was rewarded with a very curious artifact courtesy of the folks at Amazing Facts Ministries. A gleaming red poster with a sinister looking multi-headed creature emerging from the sea, and a sultry woman with a cross around her neck and a chalice in her hands provided the backdrop for the following headline:
UNLOCKING THE PROPHECY CODE
Over 2000 Years She Has Waited for Her Chance—Now it Has Come!
You can imagine how excited I was to receive a personal invitation to this “spectacular multimedia seminar unlocking the mysterious symbols of Bible prophecy.” This Friday, in a hotel ballroom near me, it will all become clear! Mysteries will be unraveled, secrets revealed, texts decoded, dates and political realities predicted, ominous portents heralded. And all in a week-long extravaganza! Bring the whole family! And make sure you sign up for the free continental breakfast and the discounted pass for the water slide so you’ll have something to do when you’re not learning about beasts and blood and the fiery end of the world as we know it.
Of course, it’s easy—probably too easy—to mock events like this. There are innumerable things one could say about the implicit or explicit assumptions about God, human beings, the Bible, etc that inform this sort of a conference. It is so deliciously enjoyable to lump the organization behind this event into a category with the Harold Campings of the world—a fringe group characterized by imaginative exegesis, a hunger for attention, and a healthy dose of paranoia (Camping is on his third strike now, having failed in his previous two rapture predictions). These kinds of people and views can seem to be virtually begging for ridicule.
And yet. It is worth remembering that however distasteful I find events and views such as these, they are promoted and held by real people—people with the same hopes and fears, the same need for meaning and justice, the same hunger for truth and goodness as me. Behind the wildly sensationalistic images and headlines of the poster that arrived in my mailbox are people who are guided by the hope that God will one day right the wrongs of history. However misguided I might think their understanding of this hope might be, and however tragically irresponsible I might think they are in presenting these kinds of views to others, I must remember these things.
As I pulled up to the mailbox today I was listening to another lecture from the recently-concluded MB Study Conference in Kitchener, ON. As I continued to think about my prophecy poster, a few statements from a fantastic address on the nature of sin by Paul Cumin leapt to mind:
The things we believe about God, the world, and ourselves are the scaffolding that supports us. When a social or religious or political community has shared beliefs, it is cohesive, and when we are within those communities and sharing those believes, we thereby receive confirmation of our identity.
Our beliefs insulate and prop up our identities, and we are unwilling to entertain anything that might question those beliefs. Questioning them would thereby threaten who we are.
Our beliefs are who we are, and so we protect and defend those beliefs by persons or voices that might call them into question.
These statements are true about the people behind the upcoming prophecy conference in our city. They are also true about me. None of us are immune from the intimate connection between what we believe to be true about the world and who we understand ourselves to be. All of us protect and fortify our ideological “scaffolding,” whether this scaffolding is thought to be sophisticated and learned, speculative and sensationalistic, or anywhere in between.
Clearly, all views of the world are not created equal. I do not think that, as a follower of Jesus, I am required to respect or dignify every position with some real or perceived connection to Christianity or the Bible or whatever. But I am required to separate people from the views they hold, and to love my neighbour as myself. Even—or especially?—those who are, in my view, badly mistaken.
God loves people who think wrongly about all kinds of things, after all. And we are to be about our Father’s business.
Those in the Lethbridge area who are looking for an alternative way to spend a few nights over the next week or so might want to check out this.