Is There Prophetic Proof of God?
A sermon based on 1 Samuel 2:1-10
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on November 18, 2018
by Rev. Scott Elliott
Before we get to the Lectionary text, we need some theological groundwork beginning with the definition of three words. The first word is “prophet.” Many think that a prophet is someone who predicts the future, but my desktop Westminister Dictionary of Theological Terms does not give that narrow definition. It defines a prophet as “one who speaks on behalf of God to God’s people . . . “ 1.
In order to know if someone is a prophet, we also need to have an understanding of God and God’s characteristics so we can gauge whether someone is speaking on behalf of God. My desktop theological dictionary defines “God” as “The supreme being, who is creator and ruler of the universe.”
We often hear in this church that “God is love” the theological dictionary’s definition of “love,”
Love: Strong feeling of personal affection, care and desire for the well-being of others. It is the primary characteristic of God’s nature and the supreme expression of Christian faith and action. (Citations omitted)
Given the three dictionary definitions I just provided we can understand that a prophet speaks on behalf of God when their words or actions have the characteristic of love.
It is not enough to know that God is “The supreme being” and the “creator and ruler of the universe” with the primary characteristic of love. If that was all we needed to know then the Bible would be really short and the sermon would be over right about . . . now! But because of the infinite ways in which life unfolds and the vast amount of unknowns and wonder of creation, we are constantly trying to both experience God and understand how to be a part of the experience of God, to be blessed and blessings in complexities of life. And that quest involves finding and following prophets, precisely because they “speak on behalf of God to God’s people.” We hope that prophets can help us (as God’s people) to both be blessed by God and be a blessing from God. That is the ideal of Jesus’ Way.
One of biggest hurdles to being on Jesus’ Way in our day and age is that we have to somehow come to the conclusion that God and speakers on God’s behalf exist . . . or not. Basically we ask ourselves how do we know those definitions from my dictionary are true? We want proof of a supreme being, a creator, a ruler of the universe, and even of love. And we want to know how to prove people in the Bible or in our lives are speaking on God’s behalf. In short, we ask How do we know God exists? And how do we know when someone’s words or actions speak for God?
A number of modern Christians argue that we do not need proof, only faith, and by faith they tend to mean belief in the statements in the Bible and religious tradition regardless of objective evidence to the contrary. That works for many, but it does not work for all Christians. And in fairness to those it does not work for, the term “Believe” for most of Christian history meant to belove and trust God. It did not mean believe in set of statements or dogma. (Borg, Marcus Speaking Christian, 118-119) So too, the term for “faith” also has a different meaning in the Bible and the early church. It means trust, and fidelity toward God.(120-121). So belief and faith need not conflict with use of reason and objective facts to understand of God. We do not need to leave off reasoning when we consider God.
We talked a little about this in our Adult Forum class last week. Since the Age of Reason empirical evidence has formed the base upon which we tend to understand things. Modern Westerners have this thing for facts, for evidence. We tend to think that only facts lead to truth. The theology known as Fundamentalism came into existence relatively recently when the Age of Reason caused people to insist on empirical evidence, objectively verifiable facts, to find truth.
Fundamentalism subjectively declares statements in the Bible literally true and supreme evidence that supercedes contrary objective facts. In this line of thinking Bible statements cannot be challenged, not even by objective proof. Challenges to the Bible became challenges to God. They’re heresy and sin.
Ironically no author in the Bible states their work is infallible, or that they must be read literally and as such are meant to serve as empirical evidence. There is no assertion in the Bible that people of God must blindly believe and have faith. So even from a Biblical standpoint we are not prevented from challenging Bible texts. Especially texts that do not objectively evidence the primary characteristic of God . . . which is love.
The Bible does not prohibit us from looking for objective empirical evidence of God, the “supreme being, who is creator and ruler of the universe, .” or from characteristics of love. So here’s a theological challenge this morning, does our Bible text– the Song of Hannah– provide prophetic proof of God? Can we hear evidence of God in the text and is Hannah speaking on God’s behalf?
Hannah is probably best known as the woman who was ridiculed and diminished in value in the patriarchal ways of her day for not bearing a child. She was of little value to many until her prayers were answered and she finally had a son, Samuel. In her prayers she promised if she conceived a son she would dedicate him to God. Just before the verses that Olivia read so nicely, Samuel was weaned and brought to the Temple to be raised by the prophet Eli. Samuel himself later becomes a prophet.
While churches tend to resign Hannah to a sort of maternal footnote as the mom of the prophet Samuel. We can actually understand her to be one of the most effective prophets in the Bible. Her prophetic song of thanksgiving can be heard echoing down the ages in The Magnificat, sung by Mary at the news of the Advent of Jesus. Mary is also a prophet whom we will hear more about in Advent. I love that here in the final days of the Christian Calendar we hear from the Hebrew Scriptures The Song of Hannah and then we hear it echoed in the New Testament Scripture at the start of the Christian calendar through Mary’s song in Advent.
Both those songs are important and packed with so much meaning we could spend hours on them. Don’t worry we are over half way through the sermon and will not spend hours on them today. But I do want to lift up Hannah’s song that started it all and just briefly explore her exploration of God and God’s incarnation in human experiences to see if it matches up with reasoned evidence of God. Hannah’s Song actually helps us answer the question “How do we know there’s a God” and that in turn indicates that she speaks on God’s behalf– so this mom is a prophet. Her song can be heard to contains proof God exists . . . at least as my dictionary defines God. Her love-soaked words prove she speaks on God’s behalf.
The Bible, far from being a document full of words meant to be taken literally, can be better understood as the opposite. Its human authors seek to explain the unexplainable. As a consequence the Bible is full of imagery and symbolism and story which give inklings of a sense of God through metaphor. Like us, the Bible’s authors (and even its characters) are unable to fully fathom God, but they HAVE sensed God’s presence. They have encountered God. Their encounters like ours – in the texts and outside the texts– give mere glimpses of a supreme being.
To name it as Age of Reason proof, we can say that through the ages humans have encountered empirical evidence of something greater than us existing and that it pulls us toward a supreme way of being. We call that greater thing or force– that supreme being-ness– God or part of God. In our experience things only exist if they are created. Because of the complexity of creation circumstantial evidence infers that a being-ness or a force (if you will) created it and continues to create it. It is logical to say it is a supreme being. Many name that supreme being or creative force, God.
There is direct evidence in the world that immutable rules govern that which is created. Laws of physics (like gravity), laws of nature (like evolution) are among them. There is also evidence of a rule that creation is perpetually aimed toward its best-ness. Humans desire individually and collectively to be our best. We experience as part of that aim, a desire to tend to well being of others and creation. In other words, there is proof that love– the desire for well being within and without ourselves– exists. We also call that existence of love, God. It is a force that we experience existing. Given all of that it is logical to conclude the existence of God as the theological dictionary defines it. It’s okay to challenge that conclusion, but is still logical.
It is also logical to conclude that we can choose to literally help supreme being-ness to more fully break in by tending to the well being of others and creation. We can call that breaking in God’s incarnation. God is incarnate in the call to betterment and in humans answering that call. God is incarnate in the wonders of creation, in the awe we feel toward them.
Humans have a heightened sense of God’s incarnation when we focus on God in prayer, word, music, others, creation, stillness and in actions and events accidental and intentional. Hannah had such experiences. Her story includes– like many of our stories– times of trouble and rescue from trouble. She also sets out in her song times of acting to rescue, that is securing, well being. It is important to note as we move toward Thanksgiving that Hannah is particularly experiencing God in a time of gratitude as she stops and focuses on the provisions of well being and awe in our existence – the being-ness Paul tells us is God.
We can actually hear a great deal of Hannah observing evidence of her experiences of God. We know she is praying and connecting with God, the text tells us “ Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. . . . “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” We know Hannah is praying in response to the wonder at creation she has experienced personally in her own pregnancy and the life of her child, but also in the sense of awe in it all as she refers to God’s presence in the “thunder in heaven” and refers to creation’s wonders: “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world.”
Hannah’s song is full of words that echo the sense of supreme being– God– in the sense of awe in creation but also in the sense of the ruler and creator’s call toward the supreme way of being. We feel it in the story knowing Hannah was in trouble being ridiculed and oppressed. We want better for her. God in us calls us to that. That call vibrates in Hannah’s song still! Such longing is God’s immutable rule that calls humanity to seek well being for all. In Hannah’s Song we sense God in her words about being rescued, and in her words of thanksgiving. But most of Hannah’s Song is not about her. It is particularly prophetic because she speaks of the God of love who calls us to desire and then act on the desire to rescue the oppressed – we know it is God because the beckoning to betterment and the actions toward it are incarnations of the Divine.
Most of Hannah’s Song is about challenging and changing wrong choices by those who interfere with the well being of others. It’s about oppressors being stopped from oppressing due to God’s call to supreme being-ness being acted out. It is about seeking justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God She sings about talking “no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth” She sings about our actions mattering to God. She sings
The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. . . The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.
All of that and much of the rest of the song point to God’s desires and God’s tending to the well being of others– especially by siding with the end of oppression. In Hannah’s song we can hear God as the supreme being creator and ruler. In her words the definition of God is met. And we also know that we have experienced the God she speaks of and we can be a part of the experience of God when we act toward our supreme being, both as a force and as a way of existence.
We can hear in Hannah’s Song God still speaking to us. Her song is proof, objective empirical evidence that God is a supreme being, creator, ruler and love itself, and that we are blessed and can be a blessing. Hannah’s Song is one of gratitude for sure, but it is also a song full of Good News in the Age of Reason. For that we can also give much thanks.
COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED