Sock-puppet false prophecy.

Last year I wrote about sock-puppet theology. It’s when people develop their beliefs about God all wrong because of how they came about those beliefs. Instead of doing as we’re meant to—

  • read the scriptures,
  • study their textual and historical context,
  • compare them with Jesus’s character,
  • compare them with the conclusions of other Spirit-led Christians,
  • and of course use our commonsense

—these people take much easier, non-study-based tack. They meditate on certain scriptures, use their imagination to “make the scriptures come alive,” then draw conclusions from these self-induced visions. Sometimes they’ll even talk to the people in their meditations: They’ll have a full-on conversation with, say, David ben Jesse. They’ll ask him what it was like to trust the LORD while he was hiding out from King Saul ben Kish, whether in caves or Philistine territory. David will have a whole bunch of interesting insights. They’ll actually base their relationship with God on “David’s” insights.

But that’s not David. That’s an imaginary David. That’s not the guy who wrote all the psalms, conquered Jerusalem, defeated a coup led by his own son, and circumcised 200 Philistines. (Seriously. 1Sa 18.27) That’s a David based on one person’s limited knowledge of David… which might be heavily distorted by movies and books about David, sermons which oversimplified David, tacky Christian art and other forms of Christian popular culture, and of course their own ignorance. There’s nothing wrong with using our imagination to meditate, but we need to be fully aware we don’t know all—and that the Holy Spirit isn’t filling in all the blanks in our knoweldge; we are.

“David’s” insights are really our insights. And sometimes they’re not insightful at all. They’re just the same old prejudices, the same worldly thinking, we’ve always had… dressed up in a nice Christian package. It’s not David; it’s a David sock puppet.

I remind you of this, and went on about this, because today I’m writing about prophecy, and about one particular practice you’ll find among people who really, really wanna become prophets. But they’re not willing to do the hard work of learning to recognize God’s voice, and confirming it’s him. So what they’ve done… is create a Holy Spirit sock puppet.

Nope, not kidding. Wish I were.

Inventing God’s side of the conversation.

See, newbies lack patience. Heck, a lot of longtime Christians lack patience; they never bothered to develop fruit of the Spirit, and grow up. And when they first discover prayer is not one-way—we talk to God, but God talks back—of course they wanna hear God talk back! Who wouldn’t?

(Well, unless they haven’t yet learned God is kind, and they’re worried once he does talk back, he’ll start criticizing all their sins like an overbearing mother… so they’re avoiding this, and avoiding him. These folks merit their own article, so I’ll write it another time.)

Anyway they’re trying to hear God. Trying their darnedest. But they have odd ideas about how to hear him. They’re waiting for a still small voice; an audible voice of some form. Or they’re waiting to feel certain emotions which they expect will direct them the right way. Or for the world around them to vanish, and suddenly they’re having a conversation in a big white void with the Almighty… you know, like in the movies. And yeah, maybe the Almighty looks a bit like Morgan Freeman.

The human brain is designed to be inventive. To solve problems. To fill in blanks. If God appears to be a blank, sometimes the brain will fill it in with the data it has. People already know a few things (or think they know a few things) about God, whether we picked ’em up from bible, sermons, TV, or Facebook memes. Takes hardly any effort for most of us to imagine what God might say in response to our questions. Especially if we happen to know an appropriate-sounding bible verse.

And when the stakes aren’t high at all—if we’re asking God a minor question, instead of a major life-altering question where we desperately wanna know God’s will for our lives—it’s really, really easy to accept what God might say, as if he did kinda say it. After all, doesn’t the Holy Spirit have the power to inspire our imaginations? Maybe our imaginary answers are ultimately from God, no?

No. But you see how the slippery slope starts.

I slipped on that slope myself, when I first learned to listen to God. I’d ask him questions, then wait for the appropriate bible verses to pop into my brain. (I grew up Christian, and between Sunday school and AWANA I got a lot of verses memorized.) My church at the time was cessationist, so they insisted if God spoke at all, it was only in bible verses, lest he create any new revelations. So, foolishly, I’d ignore everything the Spirit actually told me, and wait for the appropriate verses to come to mind. Preferably in King James Version; preferably with James Earl Jones’s voice. But NIV or Living Bible paraphrases were acceptable.

Did all these verses pop into my mind in their proper historical context? If I was lucky they did. They didn’t always. Wasn’t till I went to seminary that I learned context is a thing… and that I misunderstood a lot of the verses in my brain. More importantly, that if it’s really the Holy Spirit speaking, he’s not gonna twist and distort his own scriptures! Duh.

But once I got used to listening to the scripture-regurgitator function in my brain, I got used to trusting everything else it bubbled up. Including things that weren’t necessarily scripture. “Go over to that guy sitting at the bus stop and share the gospel with him,” it’d tell me, and I’d figure this was the Almighty talking (’cause doesn’t Jesus want me to preach the gospel to all nations?) and give it a shot. Sometimes the people who listened to my gospel spiel were casually receptive, ’cause they were Christian already, or thought they were; and sometimes they weren’t interested at all, leaving me to wonder why God would want me to pitch Jesus to someone so unreceptive.

Yeah, I know. Wasn’t actually God. But lots of Christians believe they “hear God” and “follow God” in the very same way. And some of ’em actually attempt to prophesy based on these impulses: “God told me to tell you” and so forth.

They’ll have full-on sock-puppet conversations with the “Holy Spirit” in their brains. And I wanna make it absolutely clear I’m not claiming these are evil spirits. (Well, no more evil than your average Christian.) This is not an outside force, an evil spirit trying to deceive Christians and make ’em think they hear God, and trying to lead them to their own destruction. Outside forces might find out Christians are deluding themselves this way, and accordingly try to manipulate them. And might have great success at it, if we’re talking dark Christians who are easily frightened and give in to those fears. A lot of the false prophets who claim doom and death are just outside our doors, are obvious examples. Again, I don’t claim they’re confusing demons with the Holy Spirit. But their fears do affect the part of their brains they think is the Holy Spirit, which is why their prophecies contain little to none of the Spirit’s fruit. Shouldn’t the Spirit’s authentic messages overflow with his fruit? Shouldn’t his messengers?

What put me back on the right track? Simple: Confirmation. How’d I know I heard God, instead of inventing a sock-puppet God and listening to that? I simply asked him for objective proof: “God, how do I know this is you?” If my gut response was, “Oh, stop doubting and just trust me” (y’know, just like too many Christians treat all sorts of iffy Christian teachings), I knew better than to dismiss the scriptures:

1 Thessalonians 5.16-22 NASB
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit, 20 do not utterly reject prophecies, 21 but examine everything; hold firmly to that which is good, 22 abstain from every form of evil.

I kinda treat verse 21 as my “life verse,” and really do try to examine everything. Definitely more so than many people would like! So I treat doubt as my friend, and ask questions. God’s fine with questions. When it’s really him, he has no problem providing confirmations: Other Christians telling me they got the very same message, “fleeces,” Jg 6.39 and info about the future which comes true. When it’s not him, I get none of those things, so I can dismiss those messages as my own clever attempts to mimic God… but they’re my ideas, not his.

Prophets who are only talking to themselves.

Nope, didn’t come up with this idea entirely from my own experience. It comes up in the bible too.

Jeremiah 14.13-14 NASB
13 But I said, “Oh, Lord GOD! Behold, the prophets are telling them, ‘You will not see a sword, nor will you have famine; on the contrary, I will give you lasting peace in this place.’ ” 14 Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them, nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility, and the deception of their own minds.”

Note the LORD doesn’t tell Jeremiah these other guys were listening to evil spirits. There are a number of interpreters who claim they were, ’cause they fixate on the word קֶ֤סֶם/qecém, which the KJV translates “divination,” and claim, “See, these false prophets were using witchcraft to get their prophecies.” Not really. Qecém means a “lot”—as in casting lots, drawing straws, pulling a piece of paper out of a bag, or pulling urim or thummim out of an ephod. In Old Testament times, lots were considered legitimate ways to find out God’s will—so much so, the first apostles used ’em to pick Judas Iscariot’s successor. Ac 1.26 And lots could actually work as a form of confirmation; God could tell us, “Throw your Yahtzee dice, and once all five of them come up ones, you’ll know what I just told you is legitimately from me.” Arguably that’s how urim and thummim worked. Done that way, lots are hardly witchcraft.

Nope; these false prophets were prophesying “the deception of their own minds.” Their own brains had tricked ’em into thinking the Babylonian War wasn’t coming, that the Babylonians wouldn’t invade Jerusalem and overthrow the king and scatter its population all over Iraq. But this wasn’t because the LORD had told ’em anything; this was because they didn’t want the coming invasion to be true. They wanted to believe the LORD would miraculously defend Jerusalem from all invaders, and turn it into a mighty empire, even greater than in Solomon’s days… just like all the messianic prophecies say.

Just like all the false prophets nowadays who claim their favorite politicians are going to win elections. And then they, and their followers alike, are dumbfounded when their prophecies come to nothing. Because they honestly think they hear God! But they haven’t really been listening… and arguably never really were. Yikes.

So how can you tell your favorite prophets aren’t just talking to themselves? Test them! Same as we’re meant to test every prophet and prophecy. Don’t slack on testing them just because you like the person, or like their prophecies, or find they really “speak to my heart” (you know, that untrustworthy self-centered human heart?): Examine everything.

And if your favorite prophets got something as important as a presidential election wrong, maybe you oughta stop listening to them. ’Cause no matter however many other nice things they’ve prophesied, they just exposed themselves as false. They need to repent. Possibly so do you. But regardless, stop.