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The Only Real Prediction, “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away” by Fr. George W. Rutler


January 18, 2015
by Fr. George W. Rutler

A prophecy is a declaration of truths from God: “Thus says the Lord . . .” Because it is a very serious matter to speak that way, our Lord warns against “false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.” It is inexact to think of a prophecy as a prediction, as when someone who says something will happen on the world scene is said to have made a “prophetic statement.” The confusion is understandable, since when the Lord speaks, there are warnings and promises about the consequences of not obeying the Voice.

Since people are not divine, even those of acute insight can lack foresight. Some of their wrong predictions are amusing, but only in retrospect. In 1876 an officer of Western Union saw no commercial use for the telephone, and before that, in 1830, an inventor said that rail travel at high speed would cause people to die from asphyxia. Even before then, it is said that Napoleon stomped out of a room indignantly when he thought his intelligence had been insulted by Robert Fulton describing a boat propelled by a steam engine. Then in 1807, right down the street from our church, a crowd gathered to jeer “Fulton’s Folly,” but the Clermont did work and made it up to Albany, albeit at five miles per hour.

Pope Innocent III decided that the world would end in 1284, 666 years after the founding of Islam. The Michigan Savings Bank decided against funding Henry Ford’s horseless carriage because it was only a fad. In 1878 Oxford professor Erasmus Wilson confided, “When the Paris Exposition closes, electric light will close with it, and no more will be heard of it.” Hiram Maxim said of his own invention in 1893, “The machine gun will make war impossible.” The New York Times displayed its infallible intuition for fallibility in 1936: “A rocket will never be able to leave earth’s atmosphere.” In 1943 the Chairman of IBM said that there would be a world market for no more than five computers.

These days there are various predictions about climate change, a legitimate concern that should be tempered by caution about turning hypotheses into absolutes. Fifty years ago we were told from many quarters that by now there would be massive starvation caused by overpopulation, and England would be covered in ice, just as the meteorologist Albert Porta thought that an exploding sun would engulf the earth in 1919.

Abraham Lincoln’s self-effacement resulted in a most memorable miscalculation when he said: “The world will little note nor long remember . . .”—in the Gettysburg Address. The Mother of our Lord made an opposite and very accurate prediction, stunning as it was: “Henceforth all generations shall call me blessed . . .” In her case, perfect humility dispensed with natural modesty. John the Baptist was the last of the prophets, which is why any religion that proposes Christ as a prophet but not the Son of God misses the whole point of true prophecy itself.

Christ did make some predictions—the death of Judas, the destiny of Peter, and the destruction of the Temple—but he counseled against worrying about the future. His only prediction we need to know is fulfilled in every generation:

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