Oracles, Tarot, and Oija
Today we'll look at our human desire to know the future and what Luke has to say about it in his gospel.
Text Luke 3:1-6 NIV
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar — when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene — during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”
The oracle sits on a tripod stool, inhaling smoke from the fire in front of her. Soon she begins to sway and then to babble. The priest nearby takes account of every syllable, and from it all renders a prophecy! A pilgrim wants to know his destiny, and for a fee, the system will deliver. "You will meet a delphic end," or perhaps, "sow your seed while you may, eat your bread while you can, for you way will not be long."
Prophecy! It is the stuff of those whose vision of this world has gone dim, but whose "second sight" has come clear. It is the territory of tarot cards, oija boards, seances, and channelers. It is as old as the hills, because all people have felt it was necessary. Necessary, because the beyond is hidden from us, obscure and murky, and even when it is revealed by the oracle it comes in a riddle. We know the oracles and prophets could well be scamming us, and their riddles are so vague that one can never judge them true or false. But we long to know what our destiny is, and so we consult our horoscopes, we call our psychics, we read the self-help books that predict what we will do next. And we hope that we can control our future a little better as a result.
Contrast that with this. Notice Luke's careful, almost pedantic references to historical figures. Emperor, procurator, tetrarch, high priest -- there is no mystery there, only real people at a real time. Then there is the prophet, the oracle, the vessel chosen to give the message. He does not sit in a cave to wait for his customers. He goes to them and offers their destiny to them for free.
God is coming! The great power of the beyond, enigmatic and mysterious, is building a “superhighway” to your back yard. And when God is here, humanity will no longer need oracles, for the Divine will be visible to all. Better than that: God comes in peace. Your destiny is salvation, if you will but turn from your wickedness and embrace the forginess God Holds out.
We celebrate the Advent of God's new era. There is always a freshness to the season for me, but no mysteries. Long ago, the gospel was shouted to the world as a general announcement. No more riddles, no more secret messages, no more hidden meanings. Good news, people, your destiny is crystal clear, and it is good. God has built the highway, and it comes all the way to our hidden, dark, murky world. Open your hearts to the good news.
** In the Bible, a prophecy is a message from God to the person designated to deliver it. This differs from foretelling in that a prophecy is specific and may have nothing to do with the future. Prophets with a message from God generally says as much. "Thus sayeth the Lord thy God" a little like Charlton Heston did in that big movie.
Christians believe that only God knows the future. If he is going to tell us something about the future, that telling will be through a prophet, therefore, will be a message from God, not a random psychic, or stack of tarot cards.
According to Deuteronomy 13, there are two signs of a true prophet. First, he must not direct people to follow other gods. Second, whenever the prophet says something about future events, those events must come to pass. If the prophet promotes the worship of false gods, or if his predictions fail to come to pass, then he is a false prophet.