Robin Blount: ecumenical notes, cruise ship chaplaincy and lots more

Reading the signs

19 July 2022

Deuteronomy 28 describes Moses advising the people, just before they cross the Jordan to enter their new homeland, that they must obey the commandments and decrees that God has commanded, lest calamity befall them. The chapter is full of dire warnings - no-one could have missed the point Moses was making over and over again.

But as we know, the story of ancient Israel is one of continual rejection of God's commandments, and continual strife and punishment. 2 Kings 17:13 puts it well, in a chapter that tells of the northern tribes being conquered and taken into exile by the Assyrians: "Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, 'Turn from your evil ways...'"

Move on a few pages to 2 Kings 24 and you find a similar scenario set in the southern tribe of Judah. A trio of bad kings - Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah - caused the same sort of catastrophe for the people of Judah. Nebuchadnezzar eventually subdued Judah, and again the people were sent into exile, this time in Babylon. Ezekiel was prominent in foreseeing the disaster to come, describing it as even worse than the fate of Israel - and all because the people did not follow the commandments of God.

My point in writing this is that despite the words of prophets, and in Judah's case, despite what had befallen their northern neighbours, the people still didn't get the message - or if they got it, they didn't take any notice. Things went on as normal, with predictable complaints about the way things were these days, and so on and so on.

The Guardian (19 July) contained an account of the warnings of the Climate Change Committee, an independent body set up under the Climate Change Act (2008), that the government "was failing to protect people from a fast-rising risk". It goes on, "Alarmingly, this new evidence shows the gap between the level of risk we face and the level of adaptation under way has widened [since 2016]."

It's a timely warning that things must change now. We hear daily accounts of disasters or threats that are affecting people across our planet. I wanted to make the point that prophecy is not something that is restricted to ancient religious people in the middle east. The basic meaning of the word is 'the gift of interpreting the will of the gods' and the crux of the whole concept is interpretation - reading the signs, taking careful observance of what is happening now, and making plans and preparations, because what is happening now will affect what happens in the future.

Humanity has been here before. But humanity consistently shows its weaknesses in its failure - our failure - to pay serious attention to what is going on around us, and equally, to make serious attempts to prepare for the future. We see the signs all around us - but reading them and acting on what we see is a whole different ballgame. Confession after careless failure is of little value.