Deuteronomy 18: 15-20
15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet. 16 This is what you requested of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: ‘If I hear the voice of the Lord my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.’ 17 Then the Lord replied to me: ‘They are right in what they have said. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command. 19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable. 20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.’
The phrase ‘fake news’ is everywhere. On the telly, on the radio, on our newsfeed, in debating chambers, in the shops, over the garden fence - fake news is everywhere (No I didn’t borrow your strimmer in 2013 - that’s fake news!) . Originally a term used to identify news articles from dodgy and unreliable sources (usually heavily biased ideologically as well as being factually inaccurate/false), it has been turbocharged as a catchall for anything you don’t like which paints you in a bad light.
People hearing negative, unflattering or critical things about themselves can easily dismiss it as ‘fake news’, and move the conversation away from their perceived failings and towards the perceived bias or agenda of the commentator. It’s hardly a dazzling display of rhetorical wit, but weaponising ‘fake news’ is effective - because we all hae our doots, our reservations, our suspicions about hidden agendas. Scepticism is fine (and can be divinely ordained) but cynicism is corrosive to a healthy society.
I wonder if in Moses’s time there were people going round saying, “Fake prophet, that’s just fake prophecy. SAD.” Not because they had doubts about someone’s theology, but because they didn’t like the negative, unflattering, and critical things said about them in the prophecies.
In many cases we should indeed be sceptical of people claiming to be prophets speaking in God’s name, but we need to be open to hearing God’s words in unexpected places. Discernment is difficult, it can be aided by scepticism but only hindered by cynicism. We need to be willing to listen to those who are willing to speak above the insults, accusations, and bullying - who speak not out of self-interest but out of a genuine concern for the public good.
Help us to pay attention to the prophets in our society
who can articulate difficult messages and inconvenient truths,
that challenge our preconceptions
and stretch us
and challenge us
and bless us.