Prophecy or Fortune-telling?

Noshic's picture

A friend of mine told me yesterday about how his church invited a 'Prophet' over from the US, and how this Prophet/preacher prophesized over each member - concerning their career/ business/ international travel/ relationships etc etc. My friend was mighty impressed...But somehow I felt very concerned - It sounds to me more like fortune-telling than genuine prophecy.

From my understanding, even if a person is given that gift, it is not something that is used lightly and at will to predict everyone's future. It has to be an inner, powerful moving by the Spirit for God's specific purpose.

And this is not even a one-off incident. Most of the Christians I've personally come across in this part of the world tend to be heavily into prophecy, speaking in tongues etc.. People like Benny Hinn and other tele-evangelists have a lot of appeal here. And I've known people who've been left really scarred and disillusioned when the superficiality of all this is exposed.

I can't help feeling that most of this phenomenon arises from a forced imitation of a faulty mental picture of the early church. Or worse, it is something that is deliberately done to exploit in-built cultural superstitions. Some people certainly are building highly-paying careers out of religion and taking the gullible for a ride.

Am I wrong to feel concerned? Is it just my scientific, skeptical temperament that makes me question things that seem overtly emotive or out of order?

I'd like to hear other people's views / experiences in this area. Is this a uniquely Indian phenomenon, or are you seeing more of this in the West too? Do others too feel concerned? How do you deal with it?

re: prophecy & fortune-telling

I've been meaning to add my two cents :)

Regarding the type of prophecy-making you described: people like and need the excitement of it all. This is especially true where people have largely rejected supernaturalism altogether. Those who find this unsatisfying often compartmentalize their supernatural beliefs and save it for the "church" stuff, where they then embrace things they would otherwise laugh at. Prophecy about personal destiny has the two-fold benefit of breaking through the mundane routine which characterizes modern existence in many parts of the world, as well as providing an unchallenge-able security.

This latter bit, about finding security through prophetic phenomenon, is often a primary motivation for accepting prophecy in cultures more receptive to the belief that the supernatural is "real" in some way or another. Life is hard, scary, and disappointing, and people turn to religion to deal with these tough facts; finding special knowledge about your own future that originates outside the normal channels of information provides a type of reassurance that cannot be shaken as long as one remains fully invested in one's religious beliefs. Prophecy about individuals also provides a means for leaders to guide believers with trustworthy authority; it is harder to argue with the charismatic Spirit of God than with a mere pastor or minister.

And not all prophets of the personal-destiny types are wolves preying on sheep; many are motivated by genuine belief and the desire to provide people with peace and advice; I've met and know of people who believe they have a very personal connection with the Spirit of God and let him speak through them all the time, in giving what seems like otherwise sound but mundane advice ("If you do X, Y will surely happen") ("This happened, and now that should happen, or something else will happen). Personally, I believe that in a majority of instances, what people perceive as supernaturally delivered information (whether the prophet or the prophecied to) is actually subconscious or intuited knowledge (which is not altogether different from supernaturalism...)

And not all "failed" prophets are wrong--yes, by their fruits ye shall know them. But for a time, Jesus and his followers looked like ignorant backwater fanatics clinging to a failed vision. It is not the clarity of prophetic fulfillment, or personal benefit from prophetic obedience, which allows us to gauge the genuineness of a prophet, though as a general rule of thumb that should be taken into account.

Nevertheless, as Noshi noted, the most common truth is that people adopt the prophetic role in order to enhance their authority, prestige, and general influence, so that they might personally benefit, and the most common end-result is disenfranchisment and disbelief among the fleeced sheep. This can affect people's ability to respond well to actual divine guidance or believe in any sort of supernatural reality at all; people often toss the baby out with the bathwater when they discover that their faith was misplaced.