Prophets, Like Us

Susannah Heschel is the daughter of Abraham J. Heschel, an esteemed Jewish scholar, professor, and author. She wrote the introduction to her father's 1962 tome, The Prophets, and begins with these words:

"What manner of man is the prophet?" asks my father in the opening pages?A person of agony, whose "life and soul are at stake in what he says," yet who is also able to perceive "the silent sigh" of human anguish?For my father, the importance of prophecy lies not only in the message, but in the role of the prophet as a witness, someone who is able to make God audible?The prophet hears God's voice and looks at the world from God's perspective.

To make God audible. A message. A witness. Speaking, weeping, wailing, and often raging. All are part and parcel with the prophet's call to utter words on God's behalf - to reveal God's heart to the people.

Heschel continues by saying, "[the prophet] said No to his society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism. He was often compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what his heart expected."

Not surprisingly, Heschel uses the masculine pronoun. But no matter: the words ring true. The Biblical prophets were people who communicated a different message than the world around them and most often one the world did not want to hear. Their speaking involved personal cost, high risk and often great harm. It also involved an unquenchable, unstoppable inner fire that compelled them to speak. And most of the ones we've heard about were men.

Here's what strikes me, though: these words could describe many of the women I know!

I know women in positions of leadership who are constantly pushing boundaries to honestly, and with integrity, speak what must be heard. I know women who have treaded into deep and painful waters in their marriage because they could no longer keep their heart hidden inside, remaining silent to their deepest desires. I know women who have willingly entered realms of darkness and harm to advocate on behalf of those sold into sexual slavery, those experiencing the untold horrors of sexual or physical abuse, those hidden in a violent world of domestic violence. Every day I am surrounded by women who are, indeed prophets.

Here's what I believe: whether by conscious choice or circumstantial demand, women inherently and instinctively are prophets. And further, I think that's by God's design - whether we like it or not. Most of us don't.

April 01, 2008 at 7:39 PM

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