The most famous study into doomsday mix-ups was published in a 1956 book by renowned psychologist Leon Festinger and his colleagues called When Prophecy Fails. A fringe religious group called the Seekers had made the papers by predicting that a flood was coming to destroy the West Coast. The group was led by an eccentric but earnest lady called Dorothy Martin, given the pseudonym Marian Keech in the book, who believed that superior beings from the planet Clarion were communicating to her through automatic writing. They told her they had been monitoring Earth and would arrive to rescue the Seekers in a flying saucer before the cataclysm struck.I truly love this "acid" test of whether a prophecy is "from the Lord":
Festinger was fascinated by how we deal with information that fails to match up to our beliefs, and suspected that we are strongly motivated to resolve the conflict—a state of mind he called "cognitive dissonance." He wanted a clear-cut case with which to test his fledgling ideas, so decided to follow Martin's group as the much vaunted date came and went. Would they give up their closely held beliefs, or would they work to justify them even in the face of the most brutal contradiction?
For those who draw their inspiration from the Bible, there is some small print in Deuteronomy 18:21-22 which wonderfully illustrates why a failed prophecy may not shake the foundations of a believer's faith, or cause him any uncomfortable cognitive dissonance.That is perfect. That's a "heads I win, tails you lose" set up!You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?"Only predictions that come true are from God, you see, while failed prophecies are just down to human slip-ups—a truly divine response to anyone who would condemn either a prophet or a whole belief system on the minor matter of a failed apocalypse.
If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.