Our contemporary mindset has a hard time conceptualizing and relating to “prophets” or to the”prophetic” gift.
Recently I was reading two individuals who studied Ellen White’s prophetic gift for their dissertations. One used psychological research, specifically psychotherapy, and saw many aspects of Ellen White’s early visions as arising from her deep psyche and libido experiences and early depression. The other, written much earlier, used sociological research to place most of White’s beliefs, insights and writings as social artifacts from her context. Most of what she thought and wrote were a by-product of her religious community, strong male influences and plagiarism.
Both researchers attempted to show White’s prophetic gift had human origins and could be explained through “common” explanations. One took saw her work as an internal projection outward. The other took the social manifestation route in that she merely mirrored her time.
Their arguments make sense to modern readers who seek empirical explanations. We are not comfortable with “transcendent” or “supernatural explanations.” It is just not what we think is a reliable reference point.
It can understand why a psychologist sees “insights” and “revelations” as coming from the psyche of a given person. Their training leads them to see a reservoir of explanations housed there and they have used those to help patients.
The sociologists also has seen the power of social context: the influence of poverty, the social drivers to denominationalism and how context influences ideology.
Both see a truth: religious experience and expression has many psychological and sociological factors involved.
What they miss is the unique finger prints of God in this milieu. they don’t see the role of the supernatural.
Who can? I can’t. I can only accept it based on scriptures and faith.
As I was wrestling with the logic of both these researchers–and they had good points to make–I realized the power of the Book of Daniel in understanding prayer and prophets.
I have been reading Daniel and Revelation again trying to understand what it had to contribute to Adventists, Americans and our modern times. To me, I see how Daniel and Revelation has only lead to pscyhe projections and fanaticism (like David Koresh) or beastly preaching (as George Knight has argued) but I also was finding deep solace in it and wondered why we missed its fundamental truth: God is with us!
What became clear from reading these passages and trying to understand how to respond to these two critics of Ellen White, was the under girding point of the books is that God didn’t leave us alone to our own fears and psyche limitations or to our social storms. The theme is God cares about this ball of clay and will do what he can to communicate to it. The human race to neither left only to their own psyche and libido nor their own social limitations.
Belief in prophets and prophecy is like belief in prayer: it is a fundamental statement not just about epistemology but about God.
Daniel 2 stories that truth:
King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. But he couldn’t remember it. He asked the top academics of his time to help out. He was urgent. He wanted answers. They stalled because they needed a dream to work with. But because he couldn’t remember it and the social context had no solutions the vivid truth of transcendence was revealed.
These socially sophisticated and psychologically savvy individuals were worthless at this interface of the unknown. I believe these early psychotherapists, as gifted and talented as they may have been, had a fatal faith limitation.
“The Chaldeans answered the king and said, “There is not a man on earth who could declare the matter for the king, inasmuch as no great king or ruler has ever asked anything like this of any magician, conjurer or Chaldean. 11 Moreover, the thing which the king demands is difficult, and there is no one else who could declare it to the king except gods, whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh.”
Belief in prophets and prayer is a rejection of the narrow mindset and demonic lie they articulated: “whose dwelling place is not with mortal flesh.” This is not just a limited epistemology, but a direct assault on the caring character of God.
Belief in prophets and prophecy, and prayers and supplication, is fundamentally a belief about God.
He is not so distant from our world that he can’t interact, and so distant in emotion he won’t interact.
So Daniel meet with his friends (social context) and engaged in deep personal examination (psyche) but in the context of prayer, God intervened.
“Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven;
“Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever,
For wisdom and power belong to Him.
It is He who changes the times and the epochs;
He removes kings and establishes kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men
And knowledge to men of understanding.
“It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things;
He knows what is in the darkness,
And the light dwells with Him.”
“You have made known to me what we requested of You,
For You have made known to us the king’s matter.”
And what is AMAZING about this passage, is not that Daniel got his prayers answered, but that God had initiated the whole interaction with the KING. God initiated communication with a A PAGAN, PORK EATING, IDOLATRY LOVING, SELF-RIGHTEOUS KING. And Daniel had the where-with-all to be sensitive to that truth.
Yes, God does make his dwelling with humans.
God so much wants to communicate with humans and their leaders that he stoops very low to share great stuff.
“However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days.”
People who believe in prophets and prayer are an unusually lot. They believe God communicates so as to help his children and they can communicate with Him.
Even the other Chaldeans should have been thankful Daniel and his friends believe in such a good God.
“But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me for any wisdom residing in me more than in any other living man, but for the purpose of making the interpretation known to the king, and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind”
Yes, there is a lot of psyche and social stuff flying around in this passage. But there is also a God initiation and God communion aspect of this passage.
I pray Adventists never lose this belief in prayer and the prophetic spirit that breathes such prayers.
Do you still believe God cares? and Initiates? and Responds to Prayer?
That is what it means to be a people of prophecy.
Prayer: God help us have faith when you return.
P.S.S Dwight Nelson’s many presentations on this topic are very helpful. See his series on Ellen White. His presentation on Jeremiah ranks as one of the best nuanced explanations I have seen on the role of revelation and the psyche of the prophet and how they relate.