Friday, June 16, 2006

Prophetic Untimeliness


From chapter 5 of Prophetic Untimeliness – a challenge to the idol of relevance, by Os Guinness, published by Baker Books 2003

In our own generation the figure of the unheeded messenger was well represented by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1978 with his warning to the West in his Harvard commencement speech, ‘A World Split Apart.’ The years since he spoke have amply justified his highlighting of such problems as ‘the tilt of freedom toward evil’ but the man who was lionized for his stand against communism was not appreciated for his stand against liberalism.

But unquestionably, the twentieth century’s greatest example was Winston Churchill during his ‘wilderness years’ in the 1930s, when his insistent warnings about the mounting menace of Hitler left him out of the government and out of favour with much of public opinion. Far-sighted, alone, sombre, and indefatigable, he was appalled by what he called the ‘mush, slush and gush’ of a pacifist-dreaming Britain, a corrupt and divided France, and a remote and indifferent America. All of them were being led or lulled into oblivion before the menace of the rapidly rearming Nazis.

In 1936, when the Stanley Baldwin government called for a review of the situation, Churchill commented acidly,

‘Anyone can see what the situation is: the Government simply cannot make up
their mind, or they cannot get the Prime Minister to make up his mind. So they
go on in a strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be
irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent.’
The sleepwalking democracies with ‘leaderless confusion’ were unwittingly preparing more years ‘for the locust to eat.’ Or as Churchill muttered at London’s Savoy Hotel as he heard the sounds of merriment from those celebrating the Munich agreement, ‘These poor people! They little know what they will have to face.’
History’s unheeded messengers have varied widely in both outcome and temperament. Some lived to see their vindication; some did not. Winston Churchill – aristocratic, cigar-chomping, and ebullient – is a far cry from John the Baptist, who is traditionally seen as wild-eyed and dining on locusts and wild honey. But despite such differences, common virtues emerge: discernment of the times; courage to repudiate powerful interests and fashion; perseverance in the face of daunting odds; seasoned wisdom born of a sense of history and their nation’s place in it’ and – supremely with the Hebrew prophets – a note of authority in their message born of its transcended source.
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