This opinion piece was prompted by widespread predictions, in some Christian circles, that the world would end on September 23rd, 2017.
Although there is a sense of expectation among spiritual people, it does not justify an increase in false prophecy. However, a sense of anticipation can make someone more susceptible to believe a false prophecy – especially if the speaker seems credible. One may be vulnerable to being told what they are predisposed to hear.
“But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, fierce, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people…. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” (2 Tim. 3:1-5, 4:3-4) “Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths.” (1 Tim. 4:7) “Avoid such godless chatter, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.” (2 Tim. 2:16) “Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.” (2 Tim. 2:23)
In false prophecy, a person who seems to have special insights into current events makes predictions that ultimately turn out not to be true. The intimation is that the person is speaking on behalf of God – that they are God’s representative.
The Book of Deuteronomy has this to say about false prophecy: “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ – when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously….” (Deut. 18:20-22)
False prophecy is the “fake news” of religion. Those who spread it are false prophets, not true prophets. Since false prophecy is deceptive and based on lies, it cannot originate with the God of Truth.
False prophets are eloquent preachers of falsehood, no matter how much they may subtly recommend themselves. The result of their fake predictions is a heightened, but false, sense of expectation that will inevitably be disappointed. It makes Christianity look foolish and injures the faith of those who put their trust in them.
Anxiety about the “signs of the times” opens one to the appeal of false prophecy, as does a sense that it is appropriate for God to intervene and punish the wicked – and to do it right now. However, fake predictions distract one from living in the present moment of Grace, from a loving acceptance of God’s Will and timing, and from attention to the “one thing necessary.” It focuses attention more on this life than on the next, and expresses a desire to control, or at least know in advance, the timing of God’s interventions in this world. (Where is the trust and abandonment to God’s Will?)
And it disregards Jesus’ teaching. “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray, for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mk. 13:32-33, Mt. 24:36) “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by His own authority.” (Acts 1:7)
Perhaps the temptation to know the times and seasons, and to announce them to others, is an attraction to the diabolical spirit of Gnosticism, to be recognized as one of the spiritual elite, who has special knowledge that is not given to ordinary, less gifted, brethren. If however, someone really does not have extraordinary, supernatural knowledge, is it not rather a form of pride – a desire to be held in esteem – to be listened to – and to be influential; a terrible deception that doesn’t come from God, the Father of Truth.
In any case, when someone makes a prophecy that doesn’t come true, they are a false prophet. And as the Book of Deuteronomy says: “…you need not be afraid of him.” (Deut. 18:22)
Br. Bernard Mary, MFVA