Those who have heard me talk about prophecy in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian tradition in recent years might very well have heard me talk about a particular scene from the movie 500 Days of Summer (2009). I happen to really enjoy that movie, although I realize it is not everybody’s ‘cup of tea.’ Aside from being, in my opinion, a creatively written and directed film, there is one scene in particular that was stunning. The character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt goes a party hosted by Summer (Zooey Deschanel) a while after they had broken up their relationship. And, as the narrator of the film explains, Tom (Gordon-Levitt) hoped for and believed that his expectations that they would get back together after this long separation would be actualized in reality. It is at that point that the screen splits and two scenes unfold almost simultaneously.
The viewer is able to see what the “Expectations” look like alongside what really happens in “Reality.” The difference is subtle in some ways, powerfully discordant in others.
I’ve thought of this scene often when talking about prophecy in the Christian tradition. For, although most people associated “predicting the future” and other such exercises of clairvoyance with what we popularly understand to be “prophecy,” the sense of prophecy in Christian theology, going back to the Hebrew Scriptures, is quite different.
The bottom line is that a prophet is able to see the world “as it really is,” or, as I like to put it, “to see the world as God sees it.” What this means is that someone who is, as St. Bonaventure says, so steeped in Scripture that his or her story has been shaped and now becomes one with the story of God’s self-disclosure, he or she is able to see the world around and recognize (a) what God’s intention and desire for all of creation is, while simultaneously (b) recognizing the ways in which the way we live and treat one another and the rest of creation falls short of that divine intention.
In other words, the prophet recognizes the ways that we do not live up to God’s desire, the ways in which the narratives we appropriate are not the narrative of God’s revelation and of salvation history. Through such recognition the prophet is able to see starkly the injustice in the world and is compelled by the Spirit to cry out against that. This is where the prophetic tradition of naming truth-to-power appears. When one sees the disparity between how we should be living and how we are living, what else can a prophet do but name that, proclaim that, and work for change.
Can you see the difference between the “Expectations” of God and the “Reality” of our lives and actions in the world around you? Do you note the injustice and work for peace and justice in turn?
While this scene from 500 Days of Summer is imperfect, it is one of the better images I’ve come across to illustrate this concurrent view of reality. Check out the clip below…