“Speak to Us Smooth Things”

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For 5 days, we kept our eyes to the sky and our ears tuned to the Weather Channel. We dusted off our hurricane vocabulary and liberally sprinkled our conversations with isobars and wind speeds, storm surges and a new addition — post-tropical cyclone. The forecast was dire: high winds, lashing rain, flooding and rip currents. We fretted, changed vacation plans, took in all possible projectiles and waited for Hermine to join Belle, Gloria, Irene and Sandy, the Storm Sisters that have made history on the East Coast.

We got a few drops of rain and a strong breeze.

You’d think people would be relieved and thankful. Instead, they were disappointed and just a little mad. Newspaper headlines sneered: “No-Show Hermine.” The Twitterverse accused forecasters of hype, fear-mongering and causing undue economic hardship for beach towns depending on Labor Day weekend tourism.

It didn’t take long for the memes to pop up. It’s not that we’re rooting for disaster; most of  us are not that perverse. But if you’re prepared for one and it doesn’t haphermine-150x100pen, you feel pretty foolish standing under a clear blue sky wearing rain boots and wondering what you’ll do with all those extra batteries and bottled water. And when we feel foolish, somehow, “thank you” isn’t what springs to mind. We should be grateful for being spared, but somehow all we can think about is our ruined weekend at the beach and those “weather types who are always wrong.”

All this crankiness about our near-miss with a hurricane got me thinking:

We have an uneasy relationship with prophets of any kind — whether they’re meteorologists or messengers from God.

We don’t like it when they’re wrong. We like it even less when they’re right.

When they are wrong — and in the case of God’s prophets, this means their prophecy has not yet come true — we treat them with contempt and scorn.

God’s prophet Jeremiah knew this well. For 40 years, through the reign of five different kings, Jeremiah warned that if Judah didn’t turn back to God and His commandments, there would be destruction and exile. Many didn’t listen because they just couldn’t believe it could be true — that the God of Abraham would abandon them, that He would allow His temple and His city to be destroyed by pagan nations. So they just stuck their fingers in their ears and went on with their idolatry, injustice and unholy alliances they thought would secure their future.

It must have been hard for the faithful — there must have been some — to see the wicked go unpunished for their obstinate rebellion. They weren’t grateful that God was showing mercy and patience, that more might repent. They mistook mercy for weakness, or for evidence that the prophecy and the prophet couldn’t be trusted. When our forecasters are wrong, we just shrug and vow never to listen to them again (or at least until the next hurricane). Jeremiah wasn’t so lucky. The price he paid for being “wrong” was ridicule, being called a traitor, death threats and imprisonment.

Of course, we’re not really happy when they’re right, either. I doubt that the people of Judah were pleased when, finally, Jeremiah’s vision of destruction and exile came true. Oh, you might have heard the occasional “Why didn’t I listen?” But human nature being what it is, I imagine the exiles were more likely to blame Babylon’s agression, their own king’s failed policies, or even God for abandoning them before they would admit that the judgement was on them. Anyone but them.

When prophets are “wrong” and the consequences of our sin have not yet materialized, we mistake mercy for weakness or ineffectiveness. When they are right and we see the consequences of our sin, we are quick to look everywhere but ourselves for responsibility.

Unless they’re telling us we’re perfect just as we are, prophets can’t win for losing with us.

Another of God’s prophets, Isaiah, put it this way:

“For they are a rebellious people,
lying children,
children unwilling to hear
the instruction of the Lord;
who say to the seers, “Do not see,”
and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things …”
                                                                    (Isaiah 30:9-11)

And so, I pray.

I pray that we will have ears to hear, even — especially — the stuff we don’t want to.

I pray that we will be faithful and patient, even when God’s prophecy has not yet been fulfilled.

Most of all, I pray that God will deliver us from the prophets whose words never offend— prophets who speak to us smooth things.

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