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Monday, 1 July 2013

Prophets and Men of God

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By Okey Ikechukwu, Email:

Several reactions have trailed the article “The Catholic I Was”, which appeared in this column last week. There was also a strong online debate on the matter, an aspect of which needs to be clarified here. Because one of the chief protagonists in the online debate has the same first name, ‘Okey,’ as the author, some of the commentators assumed that they were still having the exchanges with the author of the article. This is incorrect. Besides the published article, which conveys my personal views about the issues under reference, I have not made any other contribution on the matter. It is in the public domain and we are all at liberty to take various positions on it.
But the circumstance made me feel the need to share the following thoughts, given that the issues in contention in the aforementioned article are largely of a spiritual nature; with snatches of non-spiritual considerations filtering in here and there. Today’s further discussion has nothing whatsoever to do with the Ahiara matter, but takes up the more serious question of how teeming humanity must begin to itself think in earnest about the growing epidemic of “Men of God”. In the following dialogue, a perplexed young man, John, takes up issues with his uncle on the role of prophets and their purpose in the life of man.
John: From what you said during our last discussion, I want to know what makes a prophet different from other human beings. Is it education, or what?
Uncle: No one becomes a prophet simply because of learning, or any honours conferred by men. All true prophets are messengers of the Almighty and they come to this earth as teachers, moderators of values and agents of spiritual enlightenment.
John: Does it then mean that everyone with any type of spiritual insight is thereby a prophet?
Uncle: Of course not! No one can become a prophet simply by calling himself one.
John: But someone can become a prophet by attending a school of theology, for instance, or by undergoing religious and priesthood training.
Uncle: There is no true prophet anywhere in the world who became a prophet simply because he was trained by men. There is always something extra. Even where a prophet is known to have passed through some of the teachings of his society before awakening to his calling, this is only in order for him to know the limit of their knowledge and their way of life; so that he can give them comprehensive spiritual help, for a new level of consciousness.
John: If a prophet does not get his knowledge from the schools and people of his time, can we then say that he is the source of that knowledge himself?
Uncle: No, he is only a messenger and not necessarily the source of the knowledge he brings. He merely serves as a transmitter of what sometimes lies far above him. But because he has the calling and blessing of the Lord, he can teach and reveal much to his people. Meanwhile, what he is revealing is new knowledge mediated to him to transmit for their benefit. It has to be first mediated to him, before he can pass it on; unless he is a false prophet.
John: So a prophet is only a transmitter and not an originator, so to say?
Uncle: As it concerns what is mediated to mankind, yes. A prophet’s ‘knowledge’ and wisdom do not come from learning, or research. But they still come from a Source other than the prophet himself. It is given to him; and sometimes after supplication.
John: I see. Can you now explain in some detail why we need prophets on earth?
Uncle: Since prophets are teachers of new spiritual knowledge, it follows that the reason we need them is for us to be on the right path spiritually.
John: So what does that add to our life on earth?
Uncle: The answer must be linked with why we are here on earth in the first place.
John: Yes, why are we in this world?
Uncle: Let us first say that we are more than flesh and blood. . .
John: But what have prophets got to do with it all?
Uncle: As messengers of the Creator, prophets are sent from time to time to teach and guide the different races and human societies, depending on their level of development at the particular time. It is the spirit inside the physical body, and which lives after physical death, that is the target of spiritual enlightenment.
John: So the body is like a garment the soul wears when it is here in the world of matter?
Uncle: Yes, and the putting aside of the body when it is old or damaged is what we call death. … Just as earthly food and drink nourish and strengthen the physical body, so does spiritual knowledge serve as food for the spirit of man.
John: You are saying that it is prophets who bring this spiritual nourishment for man?
Uncle: Yes…but not always. It may come in the form of prophets or wise leaders who incarnate to guide a group of human beings to new levels of spiritual understanding … to bridge the knowledge-gap of the people.
John: Is that why there is always some story about special wise men or women in almost all known cultures, at one time or another?
Uncle: Yes! They bring new knowledge, or rise to warn at great turning points in a people’s existence. They are not appointed, or proclaimed, by men. They also do not need anyone’s approval to be what the Lord has appointed them to be.
John: But why is it that we human beings cannot decide on our own whether someone is a prophet or not?
Uncle: Because it is not the place of kindergarten students to draw up a curriculum to assess (and approve) the credentials of their teachers! It is also not the place of a creature to be the approving authority for what comes from its Creator. The messengers and wise ones we mentioned earlier would still be what they are whether men said so or not. That is why men’s opinion and consistent rejection of true prophets over the years does not affect the status of such prophets. Their acceptance of false prophets also ends with the collapse of the false teachings.
John: But there are historical records of prophets who held earthly positions and even served as leaders of their nations!
Uncle: Yes, but their style of leadership was always different. They tried in everything to guide men onto paths that would make them live according to the laws of the Almighty, in the course of their daily lives.
John: So what is the essential difference between a real prophet and a false one?
Uncle: A prophet is a messenger of God and a false prophet is someone who says he is the Lord’s messenger when he is not. It is as simple as that! Even if all men believe such a false prophet and proclaim him from their rooftops, he is no prophet.
John: How about some of the prophets of old who deviated from their task and were condemned for it? We can infer from this that a genuine prophet can become a false one over time.
Uncle: Yes, that can happen. The life of a prophet on earth is often a trying one and he may even be endowed with special grace for the purpose if his task. But he must remain spiritually alert, open to guidance and unconditionally loyal to the Divine Will if he is to remain on course. Once he fails in these regards, he puts everything in jeopardy.
John: So a man who is born a prophet is actually given a special talent from birth.
Uncle: Yes or, more appropriately, he is equipped for the mission and endowed before his birth on earth. But he must fulfil the purpose of the gift, or the calling...
John: Really?
Uncle: Yes … a person endowed with grace who does not fulfil his mission ceases to get any help from the Almighty; because he has closed himself to it. With that he gets no guidance and goes about pretending to know everything by himself. He is finished.
John: Ah, that explains the cases of prophets who were even later cursed because they had forsaken their mission. But what do we make of people who call themselves prophets all over the world today? Most of them have undergone some training in the scriptures and can speak well in public. Should some kind of skill not be used by the public to determine who is a prophet?
Uncle: What proof did John the Baptist give to those who did not believe him? What proof did Prophet Mohammed tender to the doubters at the beginning of his mission? The Lord has no earthly schools created to award prophetic certification, or degrees, to His messengers. They come prepared! The ability to speak well in public, or to quote the scriptures, does not make anyone a prophet, because we are told that even the devil can quote scripture.
John: How about the ability to perform miracles?
Uncle: That is no evidence that the people who perform such miracles are servants of the Almighty. They may not even believe in God. Should we call every magician a prophet simply because he can manipulate certain laws of nature in a way most people do not know? Did Simon the magician not perform almost the same miracles as the Disciples of Christ, before he was cursed, in the Bible?
John: So where does a prophetic call come from?
Uncle: It comes from the Almighty. Whoever is not sent by Him, but who nevertheless calls himself a prophet, takes the Lord’s name in vain. He will mislead the people, just like those who preach whatever they like, and call themselves ‘free thinkers’.

The foregoing are excerpts from the book “Come Let Us Reason Together”, which just came out of the press. It is the first in an on-going series known as THE DIALOGUES series. Like Dialogue series 1, from which this excerpt was taken, each edition of THE DIALOGUES consists of several chapters and each chapter, or stanza deals with some peculiar question of life. The book is out and will be available in bookshops all over the country by Tuesday next week.

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