When I talk with my children about their environmental concerns, at the top of their list is that the earth will reach a warming crisis. The ice will melt, the deserts will expand, cities will be flooded, and the world as we know it will cease to exist.
When I was in high school and college in the late sixties and early 70’s the concern of my science teachers was the opposite. We were told that we were moving into the ice age. The ice, instead of melting was expanding and the world that we knew would stop to exist in a short time.
These contradictory ideas were brought to mind by a recent article of George W. Will entitled “It’s wise to be cool to global warming talk.” His article brought to mind the vividness of the people that lectured to us in those impending global freezing days. They were scientists who spoke with lots of authority blaming certain factors and asking for drastic changes to be made in order to avoid these disasters. Since the ice age did not overtake us, I was thinking of the whereabouts of all those people who predicted their conclusions with so much authority.
This made me think about people who are known to predict the future. In the Old Testament days, the people predicting the future were the prophets. In our days, the people that speak with authority about the future are the men and women of science. The mantra of our days is that if scientists speak, we should pay immediate attention because they have to do with matters of life and death.
As a modern and post-modern person, I am thankful for all the benefits that I enjoy because of scientific progress. I am aware of the trial and errors that are done until scientific conclusions are reached, but I am also aware that collectively the scientific community can make mistakes. The question than comes when the mistakes are made, who in the scientific community admits their mistakes.
The position of the Old Testament prophet was very precarious. There were true prophets and there were false prophets. The Lord gives to His people Israel explicit ways to distinguish a true prophet from a false prophet. “You may ask yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”” Deut. 18:21-22. The punishment for the Old Testament false prophet was stoning.
The Old Testament is filled with prophets. The sad story is that the majority of them were false prophets and they have lead Israel away from God. Yet, because they came as prophets, the people believed them instead of waiting to see if their prophecies were from the Lord and if they would be fulfilled. To see the disparity between the true prophets and the false prophets, one needs to be reminded that in the days of Elijah there was one true prophet of the Lord and there were hundreds of false prophets.
The New Testament is also very careful about prophecies. Jesus himself limits what prophets can tell us and what are the things that are hidden from them. One thing that is hidden from the prophets is the return of the Son of God. Jesus says, “But of that day and of that hour, no one knows, except God the Father (Matthew 24:36).” That clear statement did not stop people throughout the world from predicting when Christ will return. In our own days, a group in Korea has predicted that Jesus will return on October 28, 1992. That day came and went and Jesus Christ did not return. Harold Camping, the founder of Family Radio has predicted that Jesus Christ will come in September 1994. He wrote a book of 543 pages. September 1994 came and went and Jesus Christ did not come. Instead of Camping repenting and admitting that he was a false prophet, he issued a call for all godly people to come out of their churches because there are no longer true churches.
I am in no ways suggesting that we should apply the Old Testament rule of stoning to death people like Camping, but recognition from him that he was wrong would have been welcome. Instead, I find that one false prophecy leads to another, because the prophet is not willing (or sometimes able) to admit their falsehood.
If the warming of the planet does not happen as it is being predicted, would all the people that have predicted it present some sort of mea culpa over the fact that they were wrong and sometimes even falsified data in order to prove their point. On the other hand, if they have been right we should praise them exhaustively because they have spoken to us the truth at a time when there were people who did not heed their advice.