Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples,
which are not recorded in this book.
But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,
and that by believing you may have life in his name.
(John 20:30-31, NIV)
A Guest Post by Ed Hird with David Kitz
The Old Testament prophetic duo of Elijah and Elisha can be categorized as non-literary prophets, in contrast to a host of literary prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Micah. In the same way, John the Baptist and Jesus are non-literary prophets of the New Testament period. They wrote nothing for us to read. In fact, the memory of their incredible lives and deeds would undoubtedly have faded into obscurity without the work of four diligent publicists named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Such is the indelible power of the written word.
Have literary prophets arisen in our time—in the era in which we live? There are ample reasons to believe the answer is yes. But before we look for examples of current or historic literary prophets, a point of clarification is required. This search for literary prophets is not about adding to the established canon of Holy Scripture. The literary prophets we are talking about simply draw people back into relationship with God. This after all was the primary goal of godly prophetic voices down through the ages. Often that involved challenging the norms, beliefs, and systems of the time.
In this respect perhaps the greatest prophet of the last millennium was Martin Luther [1483-1546]. He brought Europe out of the dark ages and into the glorious light of the gospel—a gospel that had been distorted almost beyond recognition by layers of institutional corruption, false doctrine, and a profound ignorance of the Holy Scriptures.
How did Luther bring about such a radical change? The answer primarily lies in his work as a literary prophet. Scholars and historians agree that foremost among his literary works is his translation of the Bible into German, the vernacular of the people of central Europe. Of course, this inspired translators in other lands to produce Bibles in their local tongue. Suddenly, the Word of God was unleashed and active, changing hearts and lives across the continent and that work of Bible translation continues to this day.
None of this would have taken place with such speed without the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press which for the first time made the Scriptures affordable and readily available. New technology presents new opportunities to transmit the gospel message. Are we currently using the new technologies available to us to advance the redeeming message of Christ in the world?
In addition to translating the Bible, Luther authored a host of books, pamphlets, and tracts that expounded on biblical truth and exposed doctrinal error. He was a prophetic voice to his generation but through his writing, his message still resounds five hundred years later.
Four centuries after Luther, in eastern Europe, another literary figure arose to challenge the religious and political thinking of his time. His name was Leo Tolstoy [1828-1910].
What might it take for peace to come today between Ukraine and Russia? What seems impossible with people is still possible with God.
What if Ukrainians and Russians would both rediscover the message of peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation in Tolstoy’s War & Peace? Sadly, this book is currently banned in Ukraine because of the mistaken idea that it glorifies the Russian military.
After serving in the Crimean War as a young officer in the Russian army, Tolstoy became a committed pacifist. War & Peace never glorifies war, but rather, accurately portrays how war often embitters our souls, dehumanizes us, and robs us of the love of neighbor. Ironically, the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicated Tolstoy in 1901, partially because of his questioning their uncritical support for the Russian military.
A young Leo Tolstoy
Many see Tolstoy as a Russian Charles Dickens. Considered by many as the world’s best novel, War & Peace overwhelms potential readers by its 1,400-page size. What surprised us as readers was how deeply Jesus’ gospel message of forgiveness was woven into this book. God is mentioned 312 times in War & Peace. Outwardly, the book is about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, but at a deeper level, it was about human conflict and how the Kingdom of God is the only solution.
The Russian Prince Andrei, who represented the glorification of war in War & Peace, initially despised forgiveness as just for women and children. After being mortally wounded, Andrei learns to forgive his dying enemy Anatole Kuragin, and his ex-fiancée Natasha who almost ran off with Anatole. He notably commented:
Compassion, love of our brothers, for those who love us and for those who hate us, love of our enemies; yes, that love which God preached on earth…and I did not understand—that is what made me sorry to part with life, that is what remained for me had I lived. But now it is too late. I know it!
Andrei asks his doctor to get him a copy of the Gospels, saying that he had now a new source of happiness which had something to do with the Gospels. After discovering the law of love, Andrei met again with Natasha who was devastated with guilt and shame:
“Forgive me!” she whispered, raising her head and glancing at him. “Forgive me!”
“I love you,” said Prince Andrei…
“Forgive what?” he asked.
“Forgive me for what I have do-ne!” faltered Natasha in a scarcely audible, broken whisper, and began kissing his hand more rapidly, just touching it with her lips.
“I love you more, better than before,” said Prince Andrei, lifting her face with his hand so as to look into her eyes.
This novel could have been called Love & Forgiveness. Seventy-two times, Tolstoy talks about forgiveness in War & Peace. It was not just about the war with Napoleon, it was about the war between the sexes.
Another character in War & Peace, Pierre Bezukhov, is like a Russian Forrest Gump. He is a tragically comic figure who awkwardly stumbles into all the key times of the Napoleonic conflict, unexpectedly being a savior figure, and allowing us to observe the historic conflict in person, up close. Everything about him is unlikely, from his being an illegitimate son to becoming the wealthiest person in all of Russia. Through dreams and visions, Pierre discovered on Napoleon’s battlefield that:
To love life is to love God. Harder and more blessed than all else is to love this life in one’s sufferings, in innocent sufferings.
Through discovering God, Pierre experienced a deep tranquility and happiness. He was no longer tormented by the meaningless of life:
…a simple answer was now always ready in his soul: “Because there is a God, that God without whose will not one hair falls from a man’s head.
Meeting God gave him such a new ability to listen that people regularly told Pierre their most intimate secrets. This deep listening was what caused the embittered princess Natasha to fall in love and marry him.
Tolstoy, a Russian aristocrat, became so enamored with the Sermon on the Mount that he gave away all his wealth and chose to live like a peasant, tilling the land. When he decided to give up all his book income, his wife threatened to divorce him, so he compromised by only giving away the money from any of his newly written books.
Tolstoy’s book The Kingdom of God Is Within You so impacted Mahatma Gandhi that he gave it out to his followers. Gandhi was so impressed by Tolstoy’s emphasis on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 to 7) that he read Jesus’ famous Sermon every day for the rest of his life. Tolstoy’s emphasis on non-violent resistance formed the basis of Gandhi’s campaign for Indian nationhood. Thus, through the influence of Tolstoy’s writing the entire subcontinent of India was transformed.
Martin Luther King Jr., after reading E. Stanley Jones’ book on Gandhi, discovered the nonviolent key for his civil rights movement in America. So, the torch light of a peace-making gospel passed from a Russian author to India and onto America.
Tolstoy’s passion for peace-making and forgiveness might even change Russian President Putin, if he would only take the time to read Tolstoy’s book.
The late British journalist and Christian apologist Malcolm Muggeridge deeply admired the genius of Tolstoy:
Tolstoy was one of those truly great men who come into the world at long intervals, and we need them, and we rightly continue to look to them just as the Russians do, despite all the changes that have happened.
What if instead of resenting Russia for its tragic invasion of the Ukraine, we, like Tolstoy, began to pray passionately for its transformation? Could we have faith to believe that Russia will become a Sermon on the Mount nation, overflowing with peacemakers like Tolstoy? Let’s call out to God for such a miracle.
Martin Luther and Leo Tolstoy exemplify the incredible power of the printed page. Literary prophets are history shapers. They transformed nations and their influence remains to this day. We need more literary prophets—prophets for our time.
The written word inspires faith—life transforming faith. Perhaps John, the beloved, expressed this truth best when a the close of his Gospel he penned these immortal words: But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).
Please pray for the people of Ukraine!
Volume I of Psalms 365: Develop a Life of Worship and Prayer won the Best Book of the Year Award from The Word Guild and Volume II has won the Best Devotional of the Year Award. For those who love God’s word, this three-book series is an ideal way to daily meet with the Lord. To purchase or for a closer look click here.