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Where do we go when prophecy seems premature, if not outright incorrect?

It's an interesting question raised by any number of prophecies that have not yet materialized.

One was an "urgent" word offered three months ago by a very well-known evangelical preacher, David Wilkerson -- who said "an earth-shattering calamity" was about to happen. "It is going to be so frightening, we are all going to tremble -- even the Godliest among us," said Wilkerson, who saw "thousands of fires" erupting in the New York area.

That was March 23. At the time, the economy was spiraling downward, and due to the mood of the time, one can wonder if it was an authentic prophetic "word" or Reverend Wilkerson's own deep inner thought process.

It seems so long ago because matters improved since then, at least economically -- at least for the time being. But is there still validity to Wilkerson's "precognition"? Might it simply take a good while longer for the prediction to take shape? Is it false -- or simply another case of anticipating events as happening too soon?

With prophecy, time is always a problem.

One can note that the secrets of Fatima took seventy years to reach fulfillment. At Medjugorje, events to do with the future have been predicted since 1981. "Soon" in prophecy does not always end up so soon (in human time).

But sometimes time does tell. In 1975 a charismatic in Rome uttered a prophetic word about the meltdown of our institutions -- which we are indeed seeing today, albeit more than three decades later. In the early 1990s, seer Maria Esperanza of Venezuela predicted that the world's "yellow races" would "stand up" and cause major events. One can recall that with an eye -- 18 years after the prediction -- to China and North Korea (as well as an American man who saw North Korea as initiating huge events).

We don't doubt that events will come; we see the glimmerings already; a chastisement has been upon us. But we must be cautious not to jump the gun.

Sometimes, prophecies are simply wrong. Last Lent were predictions that a huge "warning" would occur on April 10. Whether or not it remains in the future, we know of course that it did not occur last Lent.

We do know one "end": we all die, and preparing for that should take precedence over every other form of preparation. When is preparation paranoid and when is it simply prudent?

"This summer will likely be the last growing season (before the U.S. economy goes bust) to put in a vegetable garden (so that you can harvest not only food but also the seeds necessary to plant another garden again next year)!" says one of many "urgent" ones we receive from folks out there. And while trying to be careful, we don't despise inclinations of the spirit.

"Greetings of peace," said another e-mail a while back. "I am another who has had many indications of a coming time of trial. In 1998, I had a series of 'disaster' dreams. When I asked the Lord what they meant I felt him say: There is a time of economic crisis coming which will dwarf the Great Depression of the 1930ís. Be ready to pick up the pieces of peopleís lives. Be ready to help them. They will need help. There will be much despair. This will lead to a new hope in me. Never doubt that I am near when these things happen. It is part of my perfect plan for the salvation of my children. Trust me, pray, and be joyful. Then people will know that I have sent you. In 1998, who would have believed such a message? In 2009, it is a different story."

"Beloved, the time of hardship is upon you," said another "word" of knowledge -- this more recent (on May 14, in a dream). "You do not know what hardship can do, even to good people. You must pray for yourself and for all, that in dire times you will remain filled with hope and charity. Prayer is key. There will come a time when you will feel called to move on. This model I gave to Nehemiah is the model I give for your time. There must be no hoarding, but hold all things in common with the brothers and sisters I assemble. Keep to the prayers. Distribute according to need. Let there be no jealousy or wrangling, but a spirit of peace and fidelity. The Holy Spirit will be with you in this time, in a new and powerful way. Do not be afraid, for I am near."

Prophecy or personal ruminations?

If the secrets of Medjugorje take as long as Fatima, that means they may not play out in entirety until the mid-point of our century (although some of them, as at Fatima, could be far more immediate).

Meanwhile, there are also those who believe that the entire third secret of Fatima has not yet been revealed. "Wirklich gebt das der etwas," some claim Benedict XVI answered ("Really, there is something more there"), when confronted with the claim that the secret also had warnings about the liturgy. That's according to a breakaway traditionalist sect.

"While entirely plausible," noted a blogger, "the claims ultimately require documented substantiation and a public airing. If this story can be confirmed and reinforced by other, trustworthy commentators with hard knowledge, then that might be able to force the issue -- as it most clearly needs to be."

It's hard to disagree with that. Chastisement can mean a slow, gradual descent as breakdown, purification, and simplification are effected. Or it can come as rapid ones.

Whatever the case, let us caution about rumors, and linking the "prophetic pulse" so often to the economy.

That may be part of it, but don't pay too much attention to the stock market.

A sudden event can certainly come in the atmosphere of dark economic times (see World War II after the Great Depression), but it also may arrive when everything seems to be going a bit better or even with a surge of "prosperity" and celebration. That's what happened in Noah's time.

[resources: Tower of Light and Sent To Earth]

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