The Prophetic Imagination: Part 2, Moral Self-Criticism as the Voice of God

After having discussed Moses and Egypt with my students to illustrate the prophetic imagination, we next turn to the Hebrew prophets.

There's an important contrast between what Moses is doing and what the Hebrew prophets are doing. Simply, with Moses the prophetic voice of Israel is directed outward, toward Egypt. But with the Hebrew prophets the prophetic voice is directed inward, against Israel herself.

I've reflected on this before on the blog, how I find the inclusion of the prophets in the Bible to be a bit of a moral miracle. Most of us like to whitewash our lives, work to hide the worst about ourselves, and take a lot of effort to keep the dirty laundry out of view. But with Israel their moral failures get enshrined and put on full display in the prophetic books. In the prophets we see moral self-criticism named as the Voice of God, as sacred, holy Scripture.

As I said, I find that miraculous. I highly doubt any of us would like to see a laundry list of our sins and failures included in the Bible. Nor would a nation want to include an account of its sins in every history book taught to its children. We'd rather leave all that out. Yet that's exactly what Israel chose to do. Instead of hiding and obfuscating, Israel held up the mirror, took a hard look, and then added it to The Book. 

And that, I tell my students, is the second part of the prophetic imagination. It's not just to look at the Pharaohs of the world and say, "Let my people go!" The prophetic imagination is the capacity to practice moral self-criticism, and then hearing that criticism as the Voice of God.

It's easy to play the prophet for others, that's sort of thrilling, but it's much harder to direct that prophetic rebuke at oneself. How many of us display a robust capacity for moral self-criticism? Where do you hear God speaking against you, your preferred politics, and your nation? 

If you hear nothing but crickets, you've lost the prophetic imagination. 

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