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Mysteries and Secret Stuff

People are drawn to mysteries, probably because so much of life is mysterious. We want it to make sense because at times we feel at the mercy of random events. We want to think that there is some grand purpose, some plan or at least over-seeing powers that know "what's really going on." If we can tap into those powers or find or figure out clues they have left for us, we gain some comfort knowing that somehow it all fits. Unbelievers and pagans find this comfort in all sorts of ways -- oracles from the gods; contacting departed spirits; astrology, mystical writings; and many forms of divination, such as examining one's palm, or "reading" tea leaves, or chicken entrails, etc. The Bible condemns all of it.

Christians know there is a grand purpose and a guiding hand in all events. It's the Lord, the infinite-personal God who made the world and reveals Himself in the pages of the Bible, written by proven prophets. He truly does know "what's really going on" because the Scripture tells us He "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11). Scripture directly, not secretly, tells us of major future events because God wants us to have comfort in how things will turn out. God wins! That's good news! And believers are to live in the light of that ultimate victory with confidence and trust. But sometimes we don't.

Sometimes, rather than trust God, we seek the same kind of insight that the pagans seek. We want to peer into what God is doing through secret insights and hidden clues. Especially when times are hard personally or nationally, we just want to know that it all fits somehow. Too often, when we need to trust God that it all fits, we want to know how it fits, and we won't feel better until we do. So along come people with a story -- a story and an insight no one else has that will explain it all, that will pull back the curtain of God's sovereignty and give us a glimpse. Some claim to be prophets, while others are content to let others talk of their prophetic power.

One of the most recent claims to special insight, which took the Christian book/DVD market by storm in 2012, is Jonathan Cahn's The Harbinger. Cahn claims to have a special insight linking a straightforward prophetic text (Isaiah 9:10) to our own 9/11 tragedy. The book is one of those novels that claims it's based on real stuff, like The Davinci Code, only this one is for believers. American Christians have fed voraciously on Cahn's work, sending the book and the "documentary" DVD to grand heights on the best-seller lists. The author, who has been revealing mysteries and secrets in one form or another for years, finally hit the right cultural moment when fear and angst among Evangelicals about American moral decline intersected with national tragedy. It's the perfect environment to hit it big because Jonathan Cahn can explain it all.

The fear is real, as is the moral decline and the national tragedy, but Isaiah 9:10 has nothing to do with it. Sadly, Cahn's answer is all based on distortions and speculations. He does a lot of bending and twisting of the Bible and history to make it all "fit". Interestingly, Mormons have found The Harbinger very useful since it points to America as a nation of covenantal significance, something not found in the Bible but in the Book of Mormon. His presentation of Christ is so minimal and vague that Mormons can easily agree with his theology, as well. And although Jonathan Cahn speaks much of coming judgment, he speaks very little Gospel. In fact, unless one already knows about the need for faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, one would not learn this central truth from The Harbinger.

We don't need insights into secrets and mysteries to see where our nation is headed. We have a clear principle: "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people" (Prov. 14:34). We have numerous biblical examples of God holding Gentile nations accountable to standards of justice and righteousness. We have our own eyes and God's Word. That's all we need. Our calling is to speak truth and share a clear Gospel in the midst of growing darkness. The rest must be left up to God, and the secrets are safe with Him. Was 9/11 a judgment of God on America? I don't know. Was Pearl Harbor? I do know it is not addressed in Isaiah 9. Will God judge America for its rush into sin and away from God? Yes. This we know from the clear text of Scripture about how God deals with all nations.

At the recent IFCA convention, I had the opportunity to meet and chat with David James, who wrote a needed critique of Cahn's book called The Harbinger: Fact or Fiction? If you're drawn to this sort of thing (and you're not alone if you are!), I would recommend James' book. He wisely says:

The Harbinger is a classic case study in precisely how not to handle, how not to interpret, and how not to apply the Word of God. For this reason, all of us should be very concerned that so many have gotten it wrong with this book. The warning signs are many, and most are in plain view, requiring just a little work to cut through the fog.

Believers don't need books that break all rules of interpretation. Unbelievers don't need Christian books that are poorly reasoned and easily refuted. I sometimes think the powers of darkness are behind books like The Harbinger to inoculate unbelievers to the reality of coming judgment and America's very real decline. By sensationalizing it, and distorting the facts surrounding it, writers like Cahn make it very easy to dismiss. It makes God's judgment look silly, and believers along with it. Are secret powers behind books like The Harbinger? I don't know. Maybe someone should write a novel.

 

Yours in Christ,

 

Pastor Wayne Wilson

Originally printed in The AFBC Pony Express. Vol. VI, No. 7, July 2013.

 

“Give ear and come to me, hear me, that your soul may live.”

– Isaiah 55:3