I have to confess that I am not really a fan of the prophets. No, its not the modern ones. My main gripe is actually with the Deuteronomic Historians, but it extends to pretty much the rest of the prophets as well. The issue is that they espouse a premodern view of historical events that I think is generally pretty problematic. Specifically, they teach a version of divine providence where God is the only real agent, and wars and calamities, like famine and disease, are the result of God’s specific interventions. This theological view of history strikes me as problematic at best, and dangerous at worst.
The Deuteronomic Historians take a similar view to historical events as the Book of Mormon (a perhaps interesting coincidence given the Book of Mormon’s claimed intellectual milieu). The “Pride Cycle” suggests that the people of God are righteous, prosper, forget God and sin, and finally must be chastened with military destruction. At the center of this history are God’s people, and all other actors are pretty much irrelevant except for the role they play in either chastening God’s people, or submitting to them. Others simply play bit parts in God’s drama with his people as the main event.
This view of history has been challenged since the enlightenment, especially since Marx’s emphasis on materialistic explanations for historical events. Instead of seeing the cause of Assyrian or Babylonian dominance in the Ancient Near East as the result of whether or not Yahweh’s shrine was properly attended to with enough sacrifices, or the Israelites were caring enough for the poor, as the prophets would claim, we now see these events as the result of geopolitical events with roots in the shift in political power, military strength, the socio-political events of the past.
The Syro-Ephraimite alliance against the Assyrians in the 730s, and subsequent attack of Judah who had decided to remain loyal to Assyria, is much more productively understood in geopolitical and economic terms than in anything Isaiah has to say about it. This is a problem. History has been so thoroughly naturalized that the theological explanations for historical events offered by the prophets are far more problematic even than Jesus’ miracles.
Of course, there are many, many people in the world who still see geopolitical and historical events in cosmic terms, where God is battled against evil, supporting or chastening his chosen people, or worse calling on some people who see themselves as the chosen people to militarily punish whom they see as wicked. This reviews the danger that these ideas can have, not only in justifying violence to others, but often to do violence to members of society seen as the cause of catastrophe. Consider the blame that some Christian leaders lay at the feet of feminists and homosexuals when natural or manmade disasters strike. This is the unfortunate legacy of the prophets’ theological view of history. So, I am left with a concern. If the message of divine providence offered by the prophets loses credibility, as a sort of remnant of a premodern worldview that I would venture to say most LDSs do not actually believe when push comes to shove, what else do they have to offer?