Why the fascination with prophecy?

Why is it that whenever I write on this blog anything about prophecy I attract far more readers than for anything else I write about? My post David Wilkerson prophecy: earthquakes in Japan and USA has been read over 1600 times in four days. The follow-up Rick Joyner on another Japan earthquake prophecy has been read over 800 times in 48 hours. By contrast, in the last week only one of my other posts, Why I am ignoring Japan, has been read as much as 100 times. So why do my mainly Christian readers have this fascination with prophecy?

For the convenience of those readers, I have set up a new category for this blog, Prophecy, currently containing the 22 most relevant posts over the last five years.

I think the underlying reason must be that Christian people are longing to find some significance in current events, especially in the turbulent times we seem to be in. These times are in fact probably no more turbulent than any others: what is new is only that turbulence from anywhere in the world is reported to us on a minute by minute basis on TV and the Internet. But what matters is the public perception that our times are unusually turbulent.

When we see natural or man-made disasters, none of us want to think that people have died for nothing. When wicked people seem to get their way, we don’t want them to go unpunished. And when we hear reports that God has given to his prophets advance warning of these events, we are at least reassured that he is in control and has not been caught unprepared. This much is certainly one of the proper purposes of prophecy.

The problem comes when we take this one step further. Somehow it is not enough for us that God is in control and will bring about his purposes at some time in the future. We long for God to intervene to put things right, and to do so immediately, on our timescales, not on his in which “a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). We expect him to take the same kind of action that the UN forces are currently taking in Libya, only more quickly and more effectively. If we had the chance to play God, we might have struck Gaddafi down with a thunderbolt and driven all his forces into the sea like the Gadarene swine. But that is not God’s way of working.

The issues get even more confused when we try to pin on to current events some kind of eschatological significance. We tend to assume that if God has foretold some event through his prophets it must be a sign of the imminent end of the world as we know it. We realise that only at the return of Jesus will all the wrongs in this world be put right. And we long for his appearing, as indeed we should do (2 Timothy 4:8).

The problem here is that, most likely, current events are not at all signs of an imminent end. This is the message of the passage from Matthew 24 which I quoted in my post on the David Wilkerson prophecy. History is littered with false prophecies that the end is nigh, just as Jesus predicted in that same chapter. Many of us will remember how 30 to 40 years ago Christian authors like Hal Lindsey predicted that the Cold War would lead to Armageddon and the return of Jesus. Today these “prophecies” look ridiculous. And very likely any predictions of eschatological significance to now current events will look just as ridiculous In another 30 to 40 years.

All this is not at all to discount prophecy today. God does seem to be giving to his prophets real advance warning of many of the major events shaking our world, literally and metaphorically. The purpose of these prophecies is not to satisfy our curiosity about the future. Part of it is indeed to reassure us that God is in control. But surely their main purpose is to warn us of how we need to repent, to change our behaviour, so that we are not overtaken by unexpected disaster.

When we read prophecies about earthquakes, and even ones about financial collapse, how often do we focus on dates and places and skip over the lessons on how God would have us respond? I confess to being guilty of this in my recent posts on prophecy, as I quoted only the predictions and not the lessons – although in fact the lessons were the larger parts of what Wilkerson wrote and Joyner said. But it is most unwise to ignore God’s warnings, as if we do we too might find ourselves victims of disasters which God allows to happen in this world.

Rick Joyner on another Japan earthquake prophecy

The well-known American charismatic leader Rick Joyner has joined me in publishing material on prophecies about major earthquakes in Japan and the USA. The prophecy I discussed was David Wilkerson’s prophecy from 1973. Joyner, however, presents a somewhat similar but more recent prophecy, from the late 1980s, given through Bob Jones. He does this in a YouTube video Special Bulletin: Japanese Earthquake, A Prophetic Demarcation in Time, Part 1.

Although this 29 minute video is divided into two sections by a “commercial break” promoting Joyner’s ministry, it is indeed only Part 1 of a series, with “Part 2 Coming Next Week”. Long term readers of this blog will remember that this is the same Rick Joyner who was involved with the restoration of Todd Bentley in 2009.

Concerning the Bob Jones prophecy, which was shared openly in the 1980s, Joyner now says:

The Japanese earthquake was something we were told over 22 years ago would begin the worldwide economic meltdown.

Now what does that mean? We need to understand what it means. See, it does not mean the end of the world. It does not mean the end of hope. It doesn’t mean the end of America. But we need to understand these times we’re in. To me this was a clear marker.

There was also other things attached to this prophecy about … There was a major earthquake coming to the west coast of the United States, and that it would not come until after the Japanese earthquake, the major Japanese earthquake that was seen. Now that doesn’t mean it was imminent to hit our west coast … (starting at 2:42)

There is a lot more of this video, mostly about the significance of these events and how people should respond to the prophecy.

Most of this I can endorse as good teaching, but I would want to be somewhat sceptical about the details especially in terms of predictions of the future. Also I would not count on Joyner’s political or economic advice as the best. As I concluded my post about the David Wilkerson prophecy,

These things are not so much signs of the end as warnings that Christian believers should stand firm, and that those who are not should listen to the gospel of the kingdom and start to follow Jesus.

Hope for Libya, despair for the Ivory Coast

It is good to see hope at last for Libya, after two weeks of generally depressing news. Muammar Gaddafi’s advance against those who have overthrown him has not been as quick as John Richardson feared nearly two weeks ago. But the advance was beginning to look unstoppable, at least by the people of Libya. It was worrying to see how a probably tiny number of genuine Gaddafi loyalist troops, heavily armed and supported by mercenaries, could drive back even the majority of the country’s army which had turned against their self-appointed leader. And it was horrific to see how Gaddafi didn’t seem to care about bombarding civilian targets.

So I am pleased to see that the United Nations has agreed on definite measures, and how quickly they have had positive results. Especially in the Arab world a show of strength is often what is needed. While the world dithered in its response, Gaddafi felt he could wage his civil war with impunity. Now that action against him has been agreed, he must have realised that the game is up for that approach. So he has quickly agreed to a ceasefire.

Of course we have yet to see if the ceasefire will hold. But we may yet see Gaddafi shifting to quite different tactics. Perhaps he will try to negotiate a settlement with those who oppose him, one which leaves him as leader of a reformed Libya. He will no doubt be desperate to avoid being sent to the International Criminal Court. But he has few options left. Perhaps he will after all fly off to Venezuela, one of the few places he might find safety.

Now some of you reading this may think that I am being inconsistent in supporting this UN action in Libya, because I have opposed similar action in Iraq and come close to a pacifist position. But I have never been a complete pacifist, and have never said I have been. I would not support an invasion of Libya with ground forces – nor does the UN. I do accept that in some cases, in the political arena rather than in the church, evil does need to be resisted.

But this resistance needs to be as non-violent as reasonably possible. It also needs to be well thought out, to ensure that the consequences are not worse than they would have been without resistance. The western intervention in Iraq failed on both those counts. The intervention in Libya envisaged by the UN would appear to pass these tests. It is of course even better if the intervention is not needed because the threat of it solves the problem – although that would not justify making threats of unjustifiable force, such as the mutual nuclear threats during the Cold War.

Sadly Libya is not the only country where this kind of intervention might be necessary. I am not thinking of Bahrain, where diplomatic action is likely to be more appropriate. Rather, I am thinking of the Ivory Coast. Eddie Arthur, who used to work there, has chronicled the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Laurent Gbagbo, the man who was defeated in the presidential election last year but refused to resign. Since Eddie wrote, Gbagbo’s forces have shelled a market in the capital Abidjan, and the UN mission has used the same words about this: “a crime against humanity”. Eddie quotes a Human Rights Watch director:

The time is long overdue for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Gbagbo and his allies …

Indeed. But unfortunately there is probably little effective action that the UN could take in the Ivory Coast, other than a full scale invasion which would probably turn into a bloodbath. Gbagbo is no more likely than Gaddafi to surrender himself to the International Criminal Court. So in response to the crimes against humanity in the Ivory Coast I can only recommend prayer.

David Wilkerson prophecy: earthquakes in Japan and USA

I know I said I was ignoring Japan, but that was always meant to be hyperbole. I don’t want to get carried away into interpreting events there as more significant than they are. But I was fascinated to read the following, written by David Wilkerson in 1974, and quoted at The Watchman’s Cry Forum in December 2010 – so well before the recent earthquake in Japan (emphasis added by the forum poster, who is probably also responsible for the grammatical oddities):

Earthquakes coming to United States

The United States is going to experience in the not-too-distant future the most tragic earthquakes in its history. One day soon this nation will be reeling under the impact of the biggest news story of modern times. It will be coverage of the biggest most disastrous earthquake in history.

It will cause widespread panic and fear, Without a doubt, it will become one of the most completely reported earthquake ever. Television networks will suspend all programming and carry all day coverage.

Another earthquake , possibly in Japan may precede the one that I see coming here. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind about this forthcoming massive earthquake in our continent.

I am not at all convinced that this earthquake will take place in California. In fact, I believe it is going to take place where it is least expected. This terrible earthquake may happen in an area that not known as an earthquake belt. It will be so high on the Richter scale that it will trigger two other major earthquakes.

This is from Chapter 2 of David Wilkerson’s 1974 book The Vision. This is the same David Wilkerson who is best known for his 1963 book The Cross and the Switchblade. He later founded Times Square Church in New York City. I heard him speak in London in 2003. Although nearly 80, he continues to publish daily devotions (using Blogger software, but this is not a blog as comments are not allowed), but has not mentioned Japan recently.

Wikipedia offers a summary of Wilkerson’s prophecies as published in The Vision and elsewhere. Some parts of this have clearly already been fulfilled. These prophecies include the following from March 2009, published among Wilkerson’s daily devotions:

AN EARTH-SHATTERING CALAMITY IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN. IT IS GOING TO BE SO FRIGHTENING, WE ARE ALL GOING TO TREMBLE – EVEN THE GODLIEST AMONG US.

For ten years I have been warning about a thousand fires coming to New York City. It will engulf the whole megaplex, including areas of New Jersey and Connecticut. Major cities all across America will experience riots and blazing fires—such as we saw in Watts, Los Angeles, years ago.

There will be riots and fires in cities worldwide. There will be looting—including Times Square, New York City. What we are experiencing now is not a recession, not even a depression. We are under God’s wrath. …

How should we react to such prophecies? In the past on this blog I have discussed modern day prophecies by Smith Wigglesworth and Sharon Stone. On my understanding, the gift of prophecy today is not primarily about predicting future events. However, I believe that on occasions God does reveal the future to his people, not to satisfy their curiosity, but as warnings and to demonstrate that he is in control of events.

Surely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets.

Amos 3:7 (NIV 2011)

Such modern prophecies should not be considered infallible. The prophets, however respected they may be as church leaders, are fallible human beings. Their utterances are not inspired Holy Scripture, not on the same level as the writings of the Old Testament prophetic authors – who were only a few of the many prophets operating in their time.

But when specific prophecies are made and come true, that tends to confirm the prophet and give greater credibility to his or her other prophecies. So it would be right for the people of the USA to take heed of Wilkerson’s warnings for his home country: a massive earthquake following the one in Japan, and major rioting in New York and elsewhere.

These prophecies should be taken as conditional, if the nation does not repent, as was Jonah’s biblical prophecy of the overthrow of one of the greatest cities of his world (Jonah 3:4). Also we don’t know the time scales involved: if the Japan earthquake was nearly 40 years after the prophecy, the US one may be even further in the future. It is wise to be ready, but not to panic. Wilkerson’s 2009 advice is good:

I will say to my soul: No need to run…no need to hide. This is God’s righteous work. I will behold our Lord on his throne, with his eye of tender, loving kindness watching over every step I take—trusting that he will deliver his people even through floods, fires, calamities, tests, trials of all kinds.

We should also avoid giving these events too much significance. They do not mean that Jesus is about to come again. He clearly warned:

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. … 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:6-8, 12-14 (NIV 2011)

These things are not so much signs of the end as warnings that Christian believers should stand firm, and that those who are not should listen to the gospel of the kingdom and start to follow Jesus.

Why I am ignoring Japan

Many of my fellow Christian bloggers are busy writing about the sad events in Japan. Among those who have written sensibly, as almost always, is Eddie Arthur.

As for my own response, I came across an old post on this blog Why I am ignoring Burma and China, and this says it all about Japan as well. Note especially my point about the far larger numbers who die all the time, without publicity, of preventable diseases like malaria. So, I repeat,

as Christians we should not let ourselves be distracted by giving excessive attention to natural disasters, which are bound to come, but should keep our focus on the work of building God’s kingdom.

An "Atheist" Perspective on Haiti

While I have been arguing that atheist arguments prompted by the Haiti earthquake are toothless, my friend and fellow blogger John Richardson, the Ugley Vicar, has been questioning whether they are really rational. John looks from the perspective of an atheist (although he is in fact a Christian minister) mainly at what Richard Dawkins has written about Haiti. He finds in Dawkins’ article anthropomorphic language and an anthropocentric perspective. He finishes by condemning Dawkins for irrationally calling for aid to be sent to Haiti, when the rational response from an evolutionary perspective is to let even more Haitians die, to reduce the world’s overpopulation which threatens the survival of our species. Read it all here.

Of course John’s tongue is firmly in his cheek here. And he is perhaps attacking a straw man version of atheism in response to the way atheists often attack straw man versions of Christianity. But he shows how the thinking of people like Dawkins is in fact firmly based in the Judeo-Christian morality whose roots they want to pull out. Do Dawkins et al really want human society to go where their rationalism seems to lead it? They may be playing with fire. Is it really rational for our society to pay a pension to Dawkins, who is no longer productive or (I presume) reproductive? Wouldn’t it be better in evolutionary terms to have him put to sleep?

It is interesting to see how atheists like Dawkins and John Loftus seems to have as a basic presupposition that human death is the ultimate evil. They use it as an argument that God cannot exist because otherwise he would not have allowed multiple human deaths. But what is their ethical basis for that judgment? It is not originally a Christian one, as Christians have always held, at least in theory, that it is better for them to die and be with God than to suffer in life. It is not an evolutionary one, for as the Nazis infamously argued the survival of the species is enhanced by the death of the less fit and of those past the age of childbearing. It is not even the ethics of a popular culture which is increasingly coming to the view that the terminally ill should be allowed to die. So why are today’s atheists still presupposing that human death is the ultimate evil?

Haiti: damned whatever I write

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am happy that atheist propagandist (and #2 biblioblogger) John W. Loftus has linked to my post about Haiti, and has in fact quoted a large chunk of it. I am pleased that, in his own comment, he endorses the Avaaz.org appeal which I also endorsed, for the relief of Haiti’s debts.

But I get the impression from what John writes that I would be damned by him just because I am a Christian, whatever I might choose to say about Haiti. In my post I explicitly denied any intention of explaining why God allowed the earthquake to happen:

That is not an attempt to answer the question of why God allowed this natural disaster.

That is the only place in the post where I even mention God. John quoted these words, but then immediately wrote:

Yet, Christians still try to open any window to show their God is not to be blamed for anything.

Well, some Christians may do this, but I quite explicitly denied making any attempt in this post to show anything of the sort. I can’t help thinking that John would have taken anything I wrote about Haiti as an attempt “to show [my] God is not to be blamed for anything”?

But perhaps I should blame not John but Christian blogger (and #5 biblioblogger) Glenn Peoples for this misunderstanding. In a comment which John quotes Glenn describes my post as

a better representation of a Christian response to Pat Robertson’s unChristian comments.

Well, thanks, Glenn, but it was not really intended to be a Christian response. Apart from that one sentence mentioning God, I wrote nothing in the post which couldn’t have been written by an atheist. Indeed I challenged John to find anything in the post that he actually disagreed with.

In fact, here is my entire comment on John’s post, to which I have now been awaiting any reply for nine hours:

Thanks for the link to my post at Gentle Wisdom. But I can’t help thinking that I would be damned for anything I wrote about Haiti (and you happened to read), just because I am a Christian. After all, I didn’t mention God in this post except to say “That is not an attempt to answer the question of why God allowed this natural disaster.” Is there actually anything in this post that you disagree with?

But in answer to some of your questions, yes, God could have for example spoken to King Charles X (or for that matter to today’s bankers) and asked him to forgive Haiti’s debts. Very likely he did speak to him. But the king, as a selfish and sinful man (like all of us), didn’t do what God asked him, or would have asked him. God could have forced him to do it, but only by turning people into robots.

And he did show the Haitians that their country was an earthquake zone, through devastating earthquakes in the 18th century. But they went ahead and built unstable buildings there anyway.

How about this argument: Suppose you have a teenage child who goes out, with your permission, and commits some minor offence. Are you to blame? Well, you could have locked the young person up at home 24 hours a day, so yes, by the standards you apply to God, that anything you could have stopped is your fault, you are to blame. But is that responsible parenting? No, it is child abuse. Similarly God could lock us up 24 hours a day so we are unable to sin, but that would be to abuse us, not to be a responsible and loving Father.

If atheists like John Loftus and Richard Dawkins want their arguments to be taken seriously, they need to make an effort to understand and interact with what thoughtful Christians write, rather than offering only ad hominem responses to them and directing their only attempts at proper argumentation at extremists and straw men.

Haiti's debts and the USA's benefit

This morning I received an e-mail from Avaaz.org about a new campaign to drop Haiti’s debt, which has already attracted nearly 300,000 signatures, including mine. I was horrified to read (in the e-mail, the same text is in the “Tell Your Friends” box at the web page) that

even as aid flows in to Haiti’s desperate communities, money is flowing out to pay off the country’s crushing debt — over $1 billion in unfair debt racked up years ago by unscrupulous lenders and governments.

There  was also interesting background which I had not been aware of:

After Haitian slaves rose up and won their independence in 1804, France demanded billions in reparations — launching a spiral of poverty and unjust debt that has lasted two centuries.

I decided to look into this in more depth.

In 1791, following the French Revolution, the slaves of France’s Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue rebelled against their white masters and seized control of a large part of the territory. Partly in response, in 1794 the French National Convention abolished slavery in all French colonies (it was not abolished in the British Empire until 1833), and eventually an uneasy peace was restored to Saint-Domingue. In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte, now ruler or France, reimposed slavery in some colonies, but not in Saint-Domingue. However, this move prompted a new rebellion there which the French government was unable to put down. So when in 1804 the colony gained its independence and took the name Haiti, despite what is often claimed this was not technically the result of a slave rebellion.

Saint-Domingue, with an area of 27,750 square kilometres, had been only a tiny part, much less than 1%, of the French possessions in the Americas. Within living memory France had claimed almost half of North America, known as New France. The southern half of this area was called Louisiana. But in 1763 the French were forced to cede all of New France. The northern part, Canada, became British. Louisiana east of the Mississippi also came under British control before passing to the United States in 1783. Spain took the part west of the Mississippi, as well as New Orleans.

Bonaparte (who crowned himself the Emperor Napoleon in 1804) dreamed of a new French empire in the Americas. So in 1800 he imposed a treaty on Spain by which the part of Louisiana which had been under Spanish control since 1763 was returned to France. However, Bonaparte never took effective control of this territory. And by 1803, facing the loss of Saint-Domingue and a renewed war with Great Britain, he gave up his plans for a French empire in the Americas.

So, when in that year the young United States sent negotiators to Paris seeking to buy the city of New Orleans, Napoleon offered to sell not just the city but the whole of his newly regained territory, Louisiana west of the Mississippi, which consisted of more than 2 million km² of mostly good agricultural land. The Americans quickly agreed to this purchase, for a price of 78 million francs or $15 million, that is, “less than three cents per acre ($7.40 per km²)”. According to Wikipedia,

The purchase, which doubled the size of the United States, comprises around 23% of current U.S. territory. …

Napoleon Bonaparte, upon completion of the agreement, stated, “This accession of territory affirms forever the power of the United States …”

Indeed it did, if not “forever” at least up to 2010. This area, sold to the USA at a bargain price for political reasons, has become the breadbasket of the world and a major driving force of US economic strength over the last 200 years.

(Of course all this land, Haiti as well, had earlier been seized with little or no compensation from its Native American inhabitants. But that’s another story.)

Contrast the French response to Haiti. This tiny former colony gained its independence in 1804, but France did not at first recognise this independence. Again according to Wikipedia,

In July 1825, King Charles X of France sent a fleet of fourteen vessels and thousands of troops to reconquer the island. Under pressure, President Boyer [of Haiti] agreed to a treaty by which France formally recognized the independence of the nation in exchange for a payment of 150 million francs (the sum was reduced in 1838 to 90 million francs) – an indemnity for profits lost from the slave trade.

In other words, the Haitians were asked to pay twice as much for the freedom of their tiny mountainous republic than the USA was asked to pay for the Louisiana Purchase, of an area 77 times larger than Haiti. The people of Haiti did manage to pay the 90 million francs, estimated to be worth billions of dollars at today’s prices. But, according to this 2009 article from the Sunday Times (linked to by Avaaz.org), it took them over a century to do so:

In 1947, Haiti finally paid off the original reparations, plus interest. Doing so left it destitute, corrupt, disastrously lacking in investment and politically volatile. Haiti was trapped in a downward spiral, from which it is still impossible to escape. It remains hopelessly in debt to this day.

It is no wonder that in recent years, as I discovered in this article, at least some

Haitians Demand Reparations
for the Ransom Paid for its Independence.

I can’t bear to summarise the picture of Haiti last year given in the Sunday Times article, of extreme poverty exacerbated by overpopulation and a series of rulers who have enriched themselves at the expense of their country.

Then into this ongoing disaster zone came this month’s devastating earthquake. Was this a natural disaster? Well, yes and no. The magnitude 7.0 earthquake was of course a natural event. But that was not the main cause of the loss of life. I have lived through a magnitude 7.0 earthquake in a major city, in Baku in 2000. (Well, they said at the time it was magnitude 7.0, but the latest data gives a figure of 6.8.) In that earthquake “26 people died as a primary result, but only three people in collapsing buildings”. The latest (28th January) confirmed death toll in Haiti is 170,000.

Why the huge difference? Yes, there were probably geological factors which caused the ground acceleration in Haiti to be higher than in Baku. But surely there is far more here. It must be the poverty and overcrowding in Port-au-Prince, and the poor standard of building work in a known earthquake zone, which have greatly exacerbated the damage and casualty rate. In addition poverty and poor infrastructure have hampered relief efforts.

That is not an attempt to answer the question of why God allowed this natural disaster. But it is intended to put the disaster in perspective.

So we can contrast here the continuing poverty of Haiti with the wealth of France which enriched itself from reparations from Haiti, with the wealth of my own UK which continued to enrich itself from slavery in the Caribbean for decades after the French liberated their slaves, and with the wealth of the USA which benefited so much from France letting them buy Louisiana at such a bargain price. These are some of the roots of continuing injustice in the 21st century world.

So I urge all of you to support the Avaaz.org campaign:

Petition to Finance Ministers, IMF, World Bank, IADB, and bilateral creditors:

As Haiti rebuilds from this disaster, please work to secure the immediate cancellation of Haiti’s $1 billion debt and ensure that any emergency earthquake assistance is provided in the form of grants, not debt-incurring loans.

This should be done not just as an emotional response to the earthquake but as a way of putting right the injustices of the past. And it should be a step on the way to cancelling all the debts owed by poor countries to the rich ones who have exploited them in the past and continue to do so.

The Gaza appeal

I thank Eddie Arthur for embedding in a post the Disasters Emergency Committee Gaza Appeal, as a YouTube video. I am also embedding it:

This is the appeal which the BBC has shamefully refused to broadcast, a decision for which it has been criticised by among others two government ministers and the Archbishops. A petition from Avaaz calling for the BBC to reverse their decision has attracted 14,000 supporters, including myself.

But, as even a BBC correspondent has suggested, the ban just may turn out for the better, as it has given this appeal a lot more publicity than it would otherwise have received. Indeed it has prompted me to donate, through this link, although I am usually quite resistant to appeals like this, and might well not have even seen the appeal if it had not been for the internet publicity.

Eddie closed comments on his post. I will not do the same because I welcome comments about the appeal. But, like Eddie, I do not want this to become a general discusssion about the political and military situation in Gaza, and so I will not allow off topic comments.

Ahmadinejad's Christmas message: good words, a shame about the speaker

There is understandable outrage, especially among Jews and reported by Ruth Gledhill, that President Ahmadinejad of Iran has been invited to present Channel 4 television’s alternative Christmas message tomorrow. It is indeed offensive that this man who has denied the Holocaust and called for the destruction of the state of Israel, and whose country persecutes followers of any religion but one, is being given such a prominent voice in the media of this free democratic country.

But perhaps as Christians we should be looking at the message rather than at the messenger. Whatever Ahmadinejad may have said in the past, the message he is offering this Christmas is largely what needs to be said to the world today. Ruth Gledhill has the complete text. In fact apart from a brief mention of “one of the children of revered messenger of Islam” there is little in this message which could not have been spoken by an evangelical Christian. Here is an extract:

Jesus, the Son of Mary is the standard-bearer of justice, of love for our fellow human beings of the fight against tyranny, discrimination and injustice.

All the problems that have bedevilled humanity throughout the ages came about because of humanity followed an evil path and disregarded the message of the Prophets.

Now as human society faces a myriad of problems and succession of complex crises, the root causes can be found in humanity’s rejection of that message, in particular the indifference of some governments and powers towards the teachings of the divine Prophets, especially those of Jesus Christ.

For Ahmadinejad “the divine Prophets” included Mohammed, but apart from that this could be a Christian message.

Of course it also has its controversial parts, such as

If Christ was on earth today undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers.

Ahmadinejad doesn’t name the powers he has in mind, although we can guess. But he is no doubt correct. Of course Jesus didn’t take a public stand against the “bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist” power of his time, Rome, and refused to lead a rebellion. But he stood with its poor and oppressed victims, and the principles he taught are clearly opposed to such powers.

The response to oppression which Ahmadinejad recommends, just as Jesus did, is not violence but repentance:

The solution to today’s problems can be found in a return to the call of the divine Prophets. The solution to these crises can be found in following the prophets — they were sent by the Almighty, for the happiness of humanity.

I would not of course endorse this in the way it is probably intended, as a call to embrace Islam. But indeed the solution to today’s problems can be found in a return to the gospel message which God sent to the world through Jesus – a Prophet indeed, but far more than that, our Saviour and our Lord.

Ahmadinejad ends with these sentiments:

Once again, I congratulate one and all on the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ and I pray for the New Year to be a year of happiness, prosperity peace and brotherhood for humanity. I wish you every success.

I wish and pray the same for all of you my readers!