Do You Believe in Prophets?

Countless people are writing, blogging, vlogging, preaching, and conversing about the coronavirus, providing survival tips, safety tips, self-awareness tips, leadership tips, relationship tips, and more. They’re all perfectly justified in exercising their prerogatives to do so. This global pandemic and its consequences are, after all, unprecedented … unless they’re not.

To call it unprecedented is to suggest the total deaths from COVID-19 are on a par with the 20 million people killed and the 21 million people wounded in World War I. Some 70 to 80 million people died in World War II, including about 20 million military personnel and 40 million civilians, many of whom died because of deliberate genocide, massacres, mass-bombings, disease, and starvation. An estimated 291,000 to 646,000 people die from the flu every year. Traffic accidents kill 1.35 million people worldwide every year.

I don’t mean to sell COVID-19 short or to suggest we don’t have to take it seriously. We do. But all things considered, COVID-19 has some catching up to do.


Much of what we’re experiencing during this pandemic is attributable to electronic media; to its insatiable need for sensationalism; to its relentless, almost instantaneous news cycles; to its pandering to the highest orders of panic and the lowest common denominators.

Before the phenomenon of news-as-wildfire, something like COVID-19 likely would have been considered to be and would have been recorded as (versus reported as) a plague. Without social media, there are 10 plagues in The Bible alone: water turning to blood, frogs, lice, flies, livestock pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and the killing of firstborn children. Throw in the Black Death, Smallpox, Cholera, the Plague of Justinian, and a few others, and we got ourselves catastrophically deadly epidemics and pandemics without the media means to turn them into global panics.

Other Perspectives

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, a dear friend of ours, a woman in her very youthful, intellectually curious 80s, lent me the 2012 novel, The Harbinger, written by Jonathan Cahn. Her timing, as it turns out, was impeccable. I’m not going to delve into the details of the story or the controversies provoked by the book. But I am going to share an excerpt from it here.

Early in the novel, the protagonist, Nuriel, encounters a mysterious stranger who presents him with a series of seals, seals being artifacts signifying the authenticity of documents, decrees, or messages of some significance. The stranger explains to Nuriel that important messages are communicated by prophets via the spoken word, through action, or in writing.

“How would you recognize an authentic prophet?” Nuriel asks.

“It wouldn’t be by appearance,” the stranger replies. “He wouldn’t necessarily look any different from anyone else … He could be a prince or a farmer, a shepherd, a carpenter. He could be sitting right next to you, and you’d have no idea you were sitting next to a prophet.”

In April of 1992, a prophet took the stage at the Paramount Theater in Madison Square Garden. He was there to tape a special for HBO entitled, Jammin’ in New York. Nobody there guessed from his appearance he was a prophet. He didn’t look any different from anyone else. He wasn’t a prince or a farmer, a shepherd, or a carpenter. He was a comedian. His name was George Carlin.

Toward the end of the show, after commenting on the absurdity of saving the planet and citing the blind arrogance of those who thought humans could threaten — let alone save — the planet, the prophet said this:

“The planet will be here for a long, long, long time after we’re gone. And it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself cause that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed … the planet probably sees us as a mild threat; something to be dealt with, and I’m sure the planet will defend itself in the manner of a large organism like a beehive or an ant colony can muster a defense. I’m sure the planet will think of something. What would you do if you were the planet trying to defend against this pesky, troublesome species? Let’s see … what might … hmm… viruses! Viruses might be good. They seem vulnerable to viruses. And viruses are tricky, always mutating and forming new strains whenever a vaccine is developed.”

As Meadowlark Lemon so famously taunted every hapless Washington General against whom he took the court for the Harlem Globetrotters, “How do you feel?”

New Perspectives

Welcome to COVID-19. This is the Big One, kids. It’s the fulfillment of the prophecy.

It’s our big chance. It’s our opportunity to find our humility and to mind our own business

It’s the time for us to practice the opposite of herd immunity — to make ourselves immune to the temptations of hubris, to get our own houses in order before we try to save the world, to avoid looking outward as an alternative to the hard work of looking inward, to do right things instead of falling for pseudo-moralistic calls to do things right.

Yep. It’s a new day. And in this new day, we can choose the highly contagious practice of taking care of ourselves — to be the infectious proof that only those who care for themselves can meaningfully care for others. Or we can go back to business as usual and back in the soup whence we came.

Do you believe in prophets?


Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.

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  1. I have to agree Brian, that much of how we’re feeling is deeply based in how much we are being bombarded with the media. It is a political vehicle no one can deny that and as this 2020 year coincides with a presidential election it is a huge platform for our President. Post 911, after a few years of media hoopla I stopped listening, stopped trying to fight the lies. I’ve never been ‘into’ politics–the word itself to me says it all.
    This virus has garnered our attention regardless and we have no choice but to tune in if nothing more than to know what the virus is doing.
    Humor is needed!
    Enjoyed your article.

    • Laurie, thank you for your comments. Perhaps more than anything, this period has the potential to be a learning experience. I’m learning to worry less, to read more, to drive less, to write more, to think about myself less, to think about our neighbors more, to control less, to accept more.

      I’m hoping the world is in no hurry to resume business as usual when this is over.

  2. Thank you for this Mark! I read Cahn’s The Harbinger, and even my husband, who has been more of a counter in the past, read some of this. He begrudgingly agreed that the interpretations are stunning. As you might guess, I agree wholeheartedly with your article.

    May you and your family, including Eddie and Kitty (forgot the name), stay safe.💖

    • I have to say I take the interpretations with a grain of salt, Darlene. But I haven’t been able to bring myself to rule them out of hand. 😉

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. Eddie and Sammy thank you for your good wishes. And the four of us (including Anne) hope you and your husband are safe and healthy.

  3. Maybe COVID-19 is “unprecedented” because it’s happening to us. Now. I live in NYC near one of the hospitals that is the epicenter of the epicenter. Up until the last few days, the sirens were constant. The city is burying the unclaimed and anonymous dead in mass graves on a small island off of Brooklyn. Some 3,000 city dwellers have died in their homes. They never made it to the hospital or a ventilator. I am a student of history, so I know the statistics you quote very well. They speak of almost unimaginable horror. But that was then. We’re living through this now.

    I do agree with you, Mark, that much of the media is promoting sensationalism. I have stopped watching any cable or network news because it has devolved into endless criticism and blame of individuals or political parties veiled in the events of the day. And that’s true of both left or right leaning sources.

    Do I believe in prophets? Nope. For every one of them who was lucky enough for their foretelling to come true, there are probably twenty who missed the mark.

    • Jeff, your comments grabbed me. They haven’t let go yet. I sincerely apologize for anything that smacked of insensitivity to time, place, or individuals.