“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren—him you shall heed— just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God, or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the Lord said to me, ‘They have rightly said all that they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not give heed to my words which he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ (Deuteronomy 18:15-20)
Who of us hasn’t wished at one point or another that God were just a little clearer about his plans for our life? That maybe he would give us a little sign to tell us where to go or what to do, maybe even give us the spiritual equivalent of a neon sign or a message on the screen of the Goodyear blimp (if we’re particularly confused). Should we do this? Should we do that? What does God expect of us? And where will he take us in the coming years, or—more generally—by the end of our life?
The feeling and desire are not only understandable but also holy—we should all seek to discover what God desires of us so that we can faithfully live out our call. But there is a sense in which the constant search for such clearly articulated answers, to a certain extent, misses the point. Yes, sometimes the Holy Spirit does give us guidance regarding specific actions to which we are called, but the end of our life and faith is not to tick off a check-list of achievements as if a certain percentage will make us fit for heaven. It is far fuller than that, far more beautiful than we can possibly fathom. It is to know and to love God, who is the fullness of Love, Goodness, Beauty and every superlative virtue—or, as we so often say in our prayers, it is “to be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”
In this light God’s promise of a prophet like Moses in this passage is particularly beautiful because it comes in response to the desire expressed by the people when confronted with the signs and wonders that accompanied the giving of the Ten Commandments. As the lightning crashed and the earth trembled, the people began to sense the awesomeness of God and of his word and realize how inadequate they were to receive it. Thus they asked for an intercessor, someone who could hear God’s word for them and make it known to them—someone who was like them and yet was set apart, consecrated for the specific task of making known the Word of God to the People of God.
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about it, but there is something truly beautiful and powerful about the fact that the Lord chose to reveal himself through prophets. He didn’t paint an impersonal message across the sky or drop a random book down from heaven. He chose real human beings, with real strengths and weaknesses, real hopes, disappointments and hardships to be bearers of his Word (think about Hosea, who was called to marry a prostitute to signify the unfaithfulness of Israel or Jeremiah, who anguished over the destruction of Jerusalem and was thrown in a cistern by his compatriots); and he often called him to reveal that Word through shockingly visceral and visual means—Jeremiah was called to wear a yoke fit for a beast of burden and Isaiah and Micah went about naked (just to name a few)!
In all of this the Word of the Lord—even when marked by rebuke—always remained profoundly personal, profoundly incarnational. It was always enfleshed. And in that sense, even in the prophets, God’s Word was never just about giving men a certain list of “to-do’s” and “not to-do’s”; it was always an invitation into a relationship, evidenced by the prevalence of the images of fatherhood and marriage that are so prolific in the prophets. God doesn’t just want to tell us how to live or what to do. He doesn’t just want us to know about him; He want us to know Him, to experience his life and his love.
And this, of course, is brought into fulfillment with the one who is God incarnate, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
So what does this mean about how we are to live our lives or answer these questions?
It means everything, because it reveals to us that the answer is not so much what but Who:
The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For…Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. (Gaudiam et Spes, 22)
It is only in “learning Christ”—as St. Ignaitus of Antioch put it—that we come to know who we are and what our purpose in life is. And it is in growing in intimacy with him and living out that intimacy by our every thought, word, and deed that we become more fully ourselves, for “The glory of God is man fully alive.” (St. Irenaeus)
Kathleen Durham is a Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker of Alighieri Press.