Monday, February 06, 2023

Anonymous Asks (235)

“Why did God use a lying spirit to deceive Ahab?”

The death of Ahab king of Israel is a fascinating story. The prophetic word through Micaiah the son of Imlah gives us a rare inside look at the interaction between the Almighty and the spirit-host of heaven. God had determined wicked Ahab’s time had come, so he inquired of the heavenly beings around him, “Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?”

A discussion ensued in which various spirits made suggestions, none of which the Lord deemed satisfactory.

Narratives in Conflict

Finally, another spirit came forward and offered to entice Ahab by speaking lies through the group of prophets Ahab consulted about major decisions. His proposal met with God’s approval, and off he went to accomplish the Lord’s purpose.

As to why God would opt to use a lying spirit, we would have to speculate a little. The only reason given in the text is that God knew the spirit’s strategy would be successful. But if we compare scripture with scripture, the reasons God did not get personally involved in influencing Ahab’s prophets to tell fibs quickly become apparent: God never lies and he does not tempt people.

In fact, what actually took place was exceedingly generous on God’s part, and very instructive from our perspective. Approximately four hundred prophets gathered and propagated the spirit’s lie that Ahab’s battle against the Syrians would be successful. Even the messenger sent to call Micaiah pressured him to agree with the false testimony given by Ahab’s prophets. Despite this, Micaiah arrived with the word of God in his heart and mouth, determined to say only what God might tell him to say. Not only did he tell Ahab plainly that he would die in battle, but he also described the heavenly council at which the method of accomplishing Ahab’s death was determined. Ahab was thus presented with two distinct narratives: one in which he would succeed and live, and the other in which he would fail and die. God hid nothing from him. Yet Ahab chose to believe the narrative that flattered him, and to do the thing he wanted to do in the first place.

Basically, the man deceived himself, which is exactly what James says about the temptation process: “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” Though God certainly manipulated the circumstances, the fault for Ahab’s death lay squarely with Ahab.

Empires of Lies

We are living in a time when lies have never been more prevalent and rarely more convincing. There is the popular and politically correct narrative about any major issue: the imminence of climate change; the evils of Russia; that men can become women and vice versa; the grave danger presented by the pandemic; that “love is love is love” no matter what God says about it; the importance of going green before we destroy the planet; the value of diversity and inclusion; and so on. Then there is usually a fairly strong counter-narrative, invariably labeled a “conspiracy theory” by the proponents of the mainstream narrative, but often supported by a minority of experts or otherwise-rational people who are summarily denounced as quacks, lunatics or haters.

Now, it would be too simplistic to say this latter group are the Micaiahs of our day. Sometimes they really are quacks pushing conspiracy theories. Sometimes they are simply contrarian. Nor would I make the claim that there are heavenly councils going on regarding these various issues concerning which the powers-that-be attempt to deceive humanity, and that spirits are being dispatched into the world to confuse it and lead it to make wrong decisions that will result in its own destruction. It could be the case, but we have no way to demonstrate that conclusively. However, it is very interesting to notice that the we are repeatedly faced with Ahab’s dilemma: two competing narratives, and choices to be made that may go very badly indeed for our society.

No Real Data?

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon, recently defended a potentially poor decision he made by saying people who did the opposite made a “data-free analysis”, and did the mental equivalent of flipping a coin: they just lucked out. Had Ahab lived to assess the consequences of his own choice, he might have said the same. It is not precisely true.

When presented with a choice of narratives, it is reasonable to assess not just the evidence presented but also the relative plausibility of the persons presenting each narrative. Is this messenger acting in his own interests or against them? Is there any pressure on him to tell the story he’s telling? What’s his track record for truthfulness and/or predictive accuracy? Is he pressuring you to decide in a hurry, and if so, why?

It’s also eminently reasonable to perform a cost/benefit analysis of each position. What are the potential positives and negatives of each outcome, and how do they compare to one another? If and when something goes wrong, how hard would it be to walk this choice back?

See, all of that is data too. Ahab might have saved his own life simply by asking and answering any of those questions humbly and honestly. Then again, God knew from the start he’d never ask them.

The Outcome We Prefer

Ahab was told the plain truth by a man with an established track record of honesty acting against his own best interests in a situation where he was under a great deal of pressure to say the same thing as Ahab’s lying prophetic horde. Moreover, the stakes were death on the one hand versus a little chafed pride on the other. That’s all data. Ahab simply failed to take the data God graciously gave him into account. He looked at the two stories he was being told, and just went ahead and picked the outcome he liked best.

If we are honest, we are often tempted to do the same. That’s usually the wrong decision.

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