Saturday, January 5, 2013

Saintly Saturday: The Prophet Micah

Today is the feast of the Prophet Micah, but not the Micah that you might expect. Micah the minor prophet, author of the Prophecy of Micah is celebrated August 14th and lived some 150 years after the Micah celebrated today. Rather, this Micah is the son of Imlah mentioned in 1 Kings 22 (3 Kings by LXX reckoning). He lived at the time of Elijah and prophesied the defeat of Ahab at the hands of the Assyrians for which he was cast into prison.

I have suggested in a previous Saintly Saturday that prophets make very good clerics and Roger of Roles, Rules & Rolls has run with the idea. The story of Micah son of Imlah puts an interesting twist on the whole affair.

In my own games, where I emulate a medieval Christian Church, how to handle evil clerics becomes a bit of an issue. If clerics receive their spells by divine energies and there is only one God, how can pagan or evil clerics get any spells? My answer has always been to run them as magic-users dressed up as priests.

However, take a look at this passage from 1 Kings 22:20-22:
And the Lord said, ‘Who will persuade Ahab to go up, that he may fall at Ramoth Gilead?’ So one spoke in this manner, and another spoke in that manner. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’ The Lord said to him, ‘In what way?’ So he said, ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And the Lord said, ‘You shall persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.’
In other words, one possible interpretation of how clerics get their spells is through spirits. Some of those spirits can be lying spirits. This opens the door to evil clerics who channel those lying spirits.

For those who feel uncomfortable with this story, and what it says about God one needs to understand it in context of both the image and likeness of God as well as the Cross:

  • The fact that the lying spirit went into Ahab’s prophets doesn’t take away from the fact that Ahab still chose to go against the Assyrians at Ramoth Gilead. Being made in the image and likeness means he had free will to listen to Micah and avoid his own demise instead of only listening to what he wanted to hear.
  • Therefore, God doesn’t create tragedy — it is something we either bring upon ourselves through our choices or as a consequence of living in a fallen world (which came about because of a choice to turn away from God). God can and does take any tragedy and turn it into some kind of good. This is best exemplified by the Cross — the worst tragedy in the history of the world (everything pales in comparison to the God of all crucified by His own creation). He turned that into resurrection.

Thus, while it might look as if those evil clerics (prophets channeling lying spirits) are actively bringing tragedy into the world:

  1. They are doing so of their own free will.
  2. God can work good even through their evil (quite possibly as a result of the PCs reacting to the actions of the evil clerics).
For myself, this is something I would not use in my normal setting (seeing Christian spell casters as clerics and pagan spell casters as magic-users works really well in that context); however, if I were ever to pursue a campaign world that emulated an era of prophets prior to the Incarnation, I would be sore tempted to use it.


Anthony said...

But if God says "You shall persuade him, and also prevail...," how then is Ahab's free will a factor? It sounds like God is guaranteeing that the lying spirit will be the most persuasive and that Micah, no matter what he could say, would fail, because God needed Ahab to be at Ramoth Gilead.

The question of free will vs fate is a tricky one in RPGs when it comes to divination spells, or rules that simulate divinatory systems, such as astrology or tarot. I always found it hard to referee, because you didn't want to tie the players to one path, on the one hand, but also not hand out information so vague as to be useless.

FrDave said...

But if God says "You shall persuade him, and also prevail...," how then is Ahab's free will a factor?

Free will is always a factor. God cannot mess with free will lest he destroy His creation (which he has definitively demonstrated that He does not want to do by going to the Cross). Ahab is made in the image and likeness of God (he is human). Since God is free, so must Ahab have free will. If God messes with free will, He destroys the image and likeness — destroying that which He declared very good.

In this particular case, God predicting that Ahab would be persuaded by the lying spirit is akin to predicting that a high school football team is going to lose badly to an NFL team. God knows Ahab's heart and knows his desires. This doesn't change the fact that on any given day, a high school team could pull of the impossible or that Ahab could actually listen to the advice that Micah provides.

Thus, despite the fact that God says Ahab will be fooled doesn't mess with Ahab's ability to choose. In this same way, divination systems in RPGs never really determine the outcome — they might prejudice the players to taking a certain course, but the choice is always up to them.

Seen in this way, divination spells in an RPG can never be retroactively wrong — it just gave the players the information they needed in order to facilitate the choices that they made...even when the divination contradicts the outcome — it was what the characters needed to hear.

Anthony said...

Thanks for the explanation, both on the free will issue and its application to divination spells. I'm currently reading Reilly's "The Closing of the Muslim Mind," which discusses an early theological conflict within Islam on the nature of God and the implications the "winning argument" had on important questions, such as free will. The contrast with the lesson you give above couldn't be more stark. If you haven't read it, I recommend it. I think you'd find it interesting reading.