What is a prophet? Part II

Dear members and friends of the Swedenborgian Church,

As I discussed in last week’s message, Abraham was the first to be given the title of prophet by God. But what makes him worthy of this title? According to Genesis, Abraham was just a man who could become scared and overwhelmed by matters of life like anyone else. But when it came to following the will of his God, he shows no fear, no hesitation, and no doubt, even when the order was to sacrifice his only son. The 19th-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wrote a whole book, Fear and Trembling, describing what might have been going on inside Abraham’s mind as he took his son Isaac to be sacrificed. The heart of the debate, and a possible subject of criticism depending on the answer, is whether or not Abraham was sure that God would spare Isaac.

If Abraham was fully sure that God would eventually spare his only son, then his faithfulness in God is not extraordinary. However, if Abraham was indeed willing to give his own son as a burnt offering to God, the nature and credibility of he and his God could be called into question, especially by modern people. In this story from Genesis, it is noteworthy that Abraham shows no sign of hesitation at all. Instead, as the faithful servant of his God, he shows three distinctive characteristics: absolute certainty of the God in whom he believes, absolute certainty of the order given by his God, and absolute certainty of his life’s purpose as a servant of God.

So then, what makes a prophet? According to the Bible, it is one who delivers the message of God to the people or the king. As a messenger, a prophet has no authority over the message itself or even responsibility for understanding the message. In the case of Abraham, it seems that he was much more than just a messenger, because in fact Abraham did not deliver any message from God to other humans. To me, Abraham seems to be a symbolic figure, perhaps based on a real person, illustrating the highest form of living as a human aligned with the will of God, meaning his life itself is the message from God to humanity. Abraham simply listened to and lived the will of his God without filtering or measuring it by means of his own human intelligence, and was fully blessed for that. In other words, being a prophet (by God’s definition) does not mean just to deliver a message on God’s behalf, but to be the living message itself. At the same time, being a prophet does not mean just to have mystical experiences, but to be the living example of what it means to live with God and/or within God’s presence.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee