As Christians, familiar with Mathews Gospel, we’ve been told to look for “good fruit” [“By their fruits you will know them”: Mathew 7: 20]. Jesus advised this in response to the inevitable arrival on the Christian landscape of “false prophets” who would arrive in “sheep’s clothing” to deceive the faithful. As a result we often think of this issue in relation to those appearing who preach something different from the Gospel. We know with a great degree of certainty, of course, that this is true for the Christian community is called on regularly to deal with all sorts of claims and prophesies which, when analyzed, reveal a failure to measure up to the Gospel. We often approach this task by looking at ways the particular alleged private revelation, over time, reveals fruit that is consistent with Gospel values.
There are other types of false prophesy, however, that we are called to consider for the world around us is ripe with examples. Our secular age has given rise to values that are often the antithesis of the Gospel and many of these for a Christian [or even a non Christian with a sound conscience] are easy to spot because they are so obvious. Once a person has departed from the Christian ethic and/ the Natural Law and adopted a secular paradigm however, it seems that anything goes because they are analyzed within the framework of what the majority may consider is acceptable morally and even good. Similarly once a person allows inappropriate worldly concerns or legalism to modify their conscience, the Gospel message gets distorted. There are many social justice issues such as the refugee crisis of today, poverty and within our own faith community an often pharisaical approach to many things, including things Catholic, on the part of some that neglects or minimizes Gospel values. The result is that the Gospel lens is unfocused when applied to the task of resolving these issues. To the extent that some parade false values before us through these various scenarios, we encounter false prophesy and we note that the fruit produced is not good.
There is another area of false prophesy however that can be just as insidious. This is interior false prophesy in the sense that it occurs within our minds often as the result of the activities of the enemy. We all have our “inner” voices and often these inner voices urge us to embrace a course of action or personal conduct that we act on to our detriment. When we really think about it, these interior false prophets parade before us “wrong” messages about God. They contradict what we know from scripture and also from our own personal experience which is that God deeply loves us. Instead they focus on burdening us, condemning us and robbing us of our peace. Whenever we believe these voices, we become confused and begin to question God’s love and support. We are called however to look at the fruit. If you are feeling burdened and oppressed, try to isolate the reason for it. Perhaps you have taken on too much responsibility feeling that God requires you to and you want God to be satisfied with your efforts. Perhaps you’re experiencing a stressful situation in a relationship or in your job or in your finances. The inner voice preaches resentment and anger rather than peace. There “is” an inner voice you can turn to in these circumstances and that is the voice of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can direct you to the troubling inner voice and counsel you as to how to deal with it. You may be anxious and concerned but the knowledge of God’s overwhelming love and compassion can leave you with a deep sense of peace no matter the difficulty you encounter. Compare the fruits of the Holy Spirit with the fruits of the false prophet and you will have no trouble denying that prophet.