We live in an era of “big data”, with businesses (e.g Royal Dutch Shell’s famous scenario planning) and governments collecting information on almost every conceivable thing they can measure, and with the computing power available to transform this data into sophisticated models that are intended to predict future outcomes. The United Nations is also a highly significant actor in this field: its international conferences and reports seek to diagnose and suggest remedies for a vast array of problems, and these depend on the gathering of data on a global scale, and the subsequent transformation of this data into meaningful statistics.
This “power to predict”, to imagine future possibilities and estimate their likelihood, has always been a salient feature of our species, and one which we are continually seeking to extend. For all this power, humanity is still at the mercy of events which defy prediction. This is for the simple reason that “the map is not the territory” - no model can ever capture every variable in any truly complex system; and even if it could, the mathematics of chaos and complexity, and the physics of quantum uncertainty, show that predicting the future state of such a system with complete accuracy is inherently impossible. This implies the need for humility.
Furthermore, while these complex processes of prediction or forecasting rely on the power of the concrete mind, they are not able to penetrate into the realms of the higher mind and intuition, where the higher analogue of prediction, prophecy, resides. “Prophecy” is a rather old-fashioned word, linked as it is in most minds with the prophets of established religious texts. Perhaps we need to re-imagine the term, for prophecy is the power to contact a higher vision, to resonate with the potential for a higher expression of the soul of a people, or even of all humanity. It thus requires a vast sympathy for the human condition, an ability to perceive the complex dynamics of a society through the eyes of the heart, and to lift this perception into the realm where divine Ideas are ever seeking to work out into manifestation.
Thus, while a forecaster is preoccupied with attempting to analyse how already existing complex patterns of forces will evolve over time, a prophet is instead concerned with sensing what new energies can enter into human consciousness and produce change. In addition, a forecaster is generally concerned with a concrete outcome - a date, a number, some previously defined measure of success, such as economic prosperity or political stability. By contrast, a prophet is usually seen as deeply concerned with showing the way - “Prepare ye the way for the Lord, make his paths straight” (Mark 1:3 re John the Baptist) - proclaiming a vision and persistently holding it before a people as an ideal state of affairs to be aspired to - hence prophecy always has a moral, even spiritual dimension, in the broad sense of an advance of human spirit and consciousness. We could say that the forecaster is seeking to be right, while the prophet is seeking to bring about righteousness.
Just as there are differing degrees of expertise in forecasting, so too there are prophecies of lesser and greater scope. Some prophets can recognise wider vistas of divine possibility than others. And prophecy, like forecasting, is dependent on conditions outside its control. As already noted, the forecaster is faced with inherent mathematical and physical constraints, a fact which weather forecasters have learned over time to take into account. And if the forecaster is attempting to predict changes in social trends, then the vast imponderables of human mass psychology enter in. For the prophet, not only is human psychology in general at issue, but also two of its more fundamental properties: the tendency to cling to habitual patterns of behaviour, which the prophet is in some sense attempting to disrupt; and the related aspect of human free will. A prophet can, in the end, only point the way, no matter how persuasively. It is for humanity itself to respond to the presented vision and make the needed changes.
In the writings of Alice Bailey, a significant role is assigned to all those whose understanding of the human condition, and loving response to its travails, transcends boundaries of race, class, creed or nationality. These “world servers”, in their many diverse groupings (for one of their defining qualities is their readiness to work in group formation), are, in their aggregate, holding before the eyes of humanity a prophetic vision of a future world, where goodwill and right relations are the goal of all interactions among individuals, groups and nations. Indeed, the world servers both point the way to it, and in their own inter-relationships, stand as a shining example in miniature of where society may one day be. Individually, they probably do not see themselves as prophetic. It is rather in the interlocking of the many individual visions that a wider picture emerges, of a world where human rights are universally respected, ecosystems are preserved and treasured, creativity is fostered through lifelong education and cultural engagement, workers are empowered to find or make for themselves jobs of dignity and true worth, all citizens are encouraged to participate productively in political life, both ancient wisdom and modern knowledge contribute to the enrichment of civilisation, and the sacred nature of existence is increasingly celebrated through rituals shared among peoples of all faiths. Living up to such a prophetic vision will take all the energy and commitment which humanity can muster - yet can there be any higher calling?