Eugene H. Peterson on the prophet pointing us to our true humanity dependent on God

God asked Jeremiah to do something he couldn’t do. Naturally, he refused. If we are asked to do something that we know that we cannot do, it is foolish to accept the assignment, for it soon becomes an embarrassment to everyone.

The job Jeremiah refused was to be a prophet. There are two interlaced convictions that characterize a prophet. The first conviction is that God is personal and alive and active. The second conviction is that what is going on right now, in this world at this time in history, is critical. A prophet is obsessed with God, and a prophet is immersed in the now. God is as real to a prophet as his next-door neighbor, and his next-door neighbor is a vortex in which God’s purposes are being worked out.

The work of the prophet is to call people to live well, to live rightly—to be human. But it is more than a call to say something, it is a call to live out the message. The prophet must be what he or she says. The person as well as the message of the prophet challenges us to live up to our creation, to live into our salvation—to become all that we are designed to be.

We cannot be human if we are not in relation to God. We can be an animal and be unaware of God. We can be an aggregate of minerals and be unaware of God. But humanity requires relationship with God before it can be itself. “As the scholastics used to say: Homo non proprie humanus sed superhumanus est—which means that to be properly human, you must go beyond the merely human.”

A relationship with God is not something added on after we complete our basic growth, it is the essential core of that growth. Take that core out, and there is no humanity at all but only a husk, the appearance, but not the substance, of the human. Nor can we be human if we are not existing in the present, for the present is where God meets us. If we avoid the details of the actual present, we abdicate a big chunk of our humanity. Soren Kirkegaard parodies our inattentiveness to our immediate reality when he writes about the man who was caught up in things and projects and causes so abstracted from himself that he woke up one day and found himself dead.

A prophet lets people know who God is and what he is like, what he says and what he is doing. A prophet wakes us up up from our sleepy complacency so that we see the great and stunning drama that is our existence, and then pushes us onto the stage playing our parts whether we think we are ready or not. A prophet angers us by rejecting our euphemisms and ripping off our disguises, then dragging our heartless attitudes and selfish motives out into the open where everyone sees them for what they are. A prophet makes everything and everyone seem significant and important—important because God made it, or him, or her; significant because God is actively, right now, using it, or him, or her. A prophet makes it difficult to continue with a sloppy or selfish life.

Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best, 48-49. The quote is from E. F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed (New York: Perennial Library, 1977), p. 38.

 

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