Why no one names their kid 'Hananiah'
In my memory, being a Postmodern Evangelical Christian was both liberating and exhausting at the same time. There was this freedom to be open to new ideas (which, ironically, were mostly ancient ideas being rediscovered), and at the same time, there was this necessity to weigh every option of theology, spirituality, eschatology, morality—concepts mulled over for centuries by minds far more brilliant than my own—and decide for myself which understandings are best. (Kudos to those still making a go at that. You're like the wrestler I never was.)
Now, I’m over trying to figure out who is right, and have found refuge in the wisdom and authority of Holy Mother Church. And every once in a while, in the Daily Scripture readings of the Roman Catholic liturgy I’m still surprised by coming across a verse in the Bible that I’ve never read before. Monday’s first reading, a passage from Jeremiah, has been one of those readings. Maybe it's not actually the first time I’ve heard it, but it's definitely the first time it's made enough of an impact to stick with me all day.
There are two prophets in this passage—Hananiah and Jeremiah—and Hananiah spouts off this really exciting prophesy that gives people a lot of warm fuzzies, but Jeremiah cautions him, kinda like “I hope you're right! But I don't know, we’ll see…” Then, Hananiah gets all ‘bout it, because he doesn’t appreciate Jeremiah doubting him in front of everybody, and there’s some cultural thing about yokes (you can read it for yourself, and try to figure that dynamic out, but the yokes thing is not really my point today, so I'm just gonna let that go).
But the part that has been seared into my brain all day? When the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah and he says:
Hear this, Hananiah!
The LORD has not sent you,
and you have raised false confidence in this people.
Did you read that right? Because if it didn’t make you at least a little goosebumpy, you didn’t read it right. Try it again.
The passage goes on to say:
For this, says the LORD, I will dispatch you from the face of the earth;
this very year you shall die,
because you have preached rebellion against the LORD.
That same year, in the seventh month, Hananiah the prophet died.
And that is why there is a book in the Bible called Jeremiah, and not one called Hananiah. And why you know plenty of people named Jeremiah, but not a lot of Hananiahs. Because Hananiah made up some crap that sounded good. But Jeremiah, he spoke God’s actual Truth.
The problem with being our own authority when it comes to Truth—and I’m just going to call it Truth from here on out, because all Truth is God’s Truth—is that we literally believe whatever we want to believe. And then we start saying whatever we want to say as if it came from God Himself.
But the thing is, just because it sounds good, that doesn’t make it true. And just because it sounds Christian-y doesn't necessarily make it a word from God.
And God doesn't like it when we say things on His behalf that are not true. Ask Hananiah. Trust me, we do NOT want to be that guy.
These days, we get to witness all kinds of people making definitive statements as if what they are saying is the Truth. But if the idea of speaking Truth doesn’t make us at least a little goosebumpy—if it doesn’t give us a reason to pause, pray, and make sure that what we’re believing and saying are actually from Him—then we’re not doing it right.
And false confidence happens. And rebellion. Bad stuff.
We really need to stop, and try that again.
Why do we say the things we say? Because it’s the Truth? Or because we’re just trying to make ourselves or someone else feel better?
The irony here is that there really is nothing better than the Truth. Yes, it can be uncomfortable, and sometimes it takes us a while to see it clearly enough to understand what we’re seeing. But it’s better to wait for that clarity than cling to lies.
So how can we tell what the Truth is? Well, for starters, Jeremiah does mention in this passage what “From of old, the prophets who were before you and me prophesied…”
There’s a sense that God is consistent—the same yesterday, today, and forever. And anything truly from Him will be consistent with the Divine Revelation of Himself to humanity so far. So it would seem that making efforts to understand this Divine Revelation would be a pretty good place to start. And also, praying more. And in the meantime, maybe saying fewer things until we know that what we're saying is the Truth.