I’ve known a lot of Christians through the years, and so I’ve run into a few who fall into the category I call “apocalyptic paranoia”.
On the positive side, these folks are genuinely committed to following Jesus. They believe in His return, and they want to be prepared for it. The problem is that they also live in the bubble of their own paranoias. Holding onto fears of economic collapse, global conspiracy, and one-world government, they pick up their Bibles and interpret the scriptures through the lens of these fears. Sometimes they also watch prophecy TV shows and/or youtube videos. They read books on conspiracy theories and/or listen to similar speakers. What they absorb often blends with their dislike of their least favorite politicians and/or their suspicions of the United Nations. The things they come up with say more about their own fears than they do about what the Bible actually teaches.
Pastors who disagree with these people (as most of us are prone to) are apt to hear scriptures quoted back at us like Isaiah 56:10-11 – where Isaiah described Israel’s leaders as inept and incompetent shepherds who aren’t aware of the dangers of the times. They quote these verses because they think we should view current events as they do, even though Jesus tended to push away from this kind of speculation (in Matthew 24:36, Luke 17:20-21, and Acts 1:6-7).
It’s all too easy to dismiss these people as out of hand and crazy. But ministry is about reaching people in the midst of their fears. We are dealing with very real emotions, so it helps to engage the Bible for what it really teaches. In the case of the prophecy in Isaiah 56, the new paragraph starts with a note of vulnerability from external threats (in verse 9). Verses 10 and 11, then, are a scathing critique of Israel’s post-exilic leaders. The prophet uses three metaphors: blind watchmen, sleeping dogs, and ignorant and selfish shepherds. These are used to highlight two big leadership problems:
The oracle climaxes in verse 12 with a quote from an old drinking song (maybe a bit like “99 Bottles of Beer”) in a depiction of unholy revelry with what I would call a “1929 mentality”. In other words, it’s a drunken and deluded optimism that is ignorant of God’s role in the larger scope of history.
That these prophecies are still repeated today is a reflection of their continuing resonance. And they resonate partly because of our comparative understanding of what good leadership is like. God is in the business of raising up godly leaders. What does a godly leader look like? We know it from the opposite of what Isaiah describes…
Leaders set the pace. Very seldom will a movement of holiness arise from the general populace and then work its way into the leadership. Usually the things that need to happen will begin with the leaders. So pick your leaders carefully. They will have a big impact on your life.
God bless you,
Andrew McHenry, Pastor – First Congregational Church
The blog of Andrew McHenry, Pastor of First Congregational Church of Emporia, Kansas.