God vs Other ‘gods’

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In my 3rd year of Bible school, I got a copy of a book that I had a hard time putting down called The Prophets.  It was written by a man named by some as being the foremost Jewish theologian of the 20th century, named Abraham J. Heschel.

Dr. Brown gave it to us in our Jeremiah class as the text-book, and stated the impact the book had on him personally, and how when it got into the hands of the late Leonard Ravenhill he said it was one of the most important books that he had ever read. It is phenomenal, and though I don’t know if it would make it in my top five of most impacting books I’ve ever read (and trust me, I read a lot) this book is definitely something else. Especially given that the author wasn’t even saved I don’t think, but was a Jewish theologian—which makes it all the more staggering the depth and scope of revelation he speaks with in this book.

My copy is two volumes in one, hardcover edition, and I think my friend Jerry, back in Canada still has it.  As you get into the second volume the chapters start to be more concentrated on specific themes.  I was provoked to thought about the Gospel message, and the differences between our deity—God and the deities, philosophies, and systems of thought of other ‘religions.  In one section I took the most notes on, Heschel takes a lot of time concentrating on one distinguishing aspect of God’s character—His pathos. I’m not going to get into it too much here, nor is this entry’s purpose to write a book review, but trust me, if you see it at a Flee Market or in a church library—pick it up, you won’t regret it, trust me!

To the prophet, God does not reveal himself in an abstract absoluteness, but in a personal and intimate relation to the world. He does not only rule the world in the majesty of His might and wisdom, but reacts intimately to the events of history. Our actions have the intimate most concern to Him. God does not stand outside the range of human sorrow, He is personally involved in, and even stirred by, the conduct and fate of man.

On the one hand, the divine pathos is not an absolute force which exists regardless of man, something ultimate or eternal. It is rather a reaction to human history, an attitude called forth by man’s conduct; a response, not a cause. Man is in a sense an agent, not only the recipient. It is within his power to evoke either the pathos of love or the pathos of anger. On the other hand, pathos is not a self-centered and self-contained state; it is always, in prophetic thinking, directed outward; it always expresses a relation to man. The life of sin is more than a failure of man, it is a frustration to God. Man is not only an image of God, he is a perpetual concern of God. Whatever man does affects not only his own life, but also the life of God insofar as it is directed to man.

But the prophets face a God of compassion, a God of concern and involvement, and it is in such concern that the divine and the human meet. Pathos is the focal point for eternity and history, the epitome of all relationships between God and man. Just because it is not final reality, but a dynamic modality does pathos make possible a living encounter between God and His people.

In contrast to our civilization, the Hebrew people lived in a world of the covenant rather than in a world of contracts. God’s chosen sphere is that of covenant.  Remember that concept–covenant, because I’m going to refer back to this in my application in a future blog post.  As well, readers are going to hear me talking about covenant a lot in my posts intertwined with my outlook of discipleship here in Peru.

God’s relationship to His partner is one of benevolence and affection. The indispensable and living instrument holding the community of God and Israel together is the law (covenant). Anterior to the covenant is love, and the love of the fathers (Deut. 4:37, 10:15), and what it obtains between God and Israel must be understood, not as a legal, but as apersonal relationship, a participation, involvement, a tension.

Biblical religion is not what man does with his solitariness, but rather what man does with God’s concern for all men. From the point of view of the unequivocal covenant-idea, only two forms of relationship between God and people are possible: the maintenance or the dissolution of the covenant. This rigid either-or is replaced by a dynamic multiplicity of forms of relationship implied in pathos.

And that is just the beginning of some of my thoughts on this after reading The Prophets.  Stay tuned for more.

The rest of this series:

God vs Other ‘gods’

Divine Pathos: God vs Other Religions

The Real and Knowable God vs Other ‘gods’

Healing: A “Different” God Than You Thought

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Steve Bremner is a Canadian missionary to Peru, who is called to raise up disciples who flow in the power of the Holy Spirit within a missional community named Oikos. He is passionate about blogging and podcasting, and is general editor of Fire Press, and also produces & co-hosts its podcast called Fire On Your Head. If you like Steve's blog, you'll also like his Kindle books.
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