Divine Pathos: God vs. Other Religions
This is a second part to a post I wrote the other day named “God vs Other ‘gods‘. I encourage you to read it first.
Did you read it yet? There will be a test at the end, so you had better!
OK, there’s no test. You can go ahead and continue.
To maintain a flow of thought somewhat consistent with the theme of my blog posts as of late, I will not in any way exhaust the spectrum on all the worldviews out there, but here’s a smattering of things to distinguish our Gospel, not allowing it to be “like” any other. Again, I’m borrowing heavily from Abraham Heschel’s The Prophets enough to warrant saying so at the outset.
Philosophical theologians have maintained that while man is dependent upon the Supreme Being, the Supreme Being has no need of man, standing aloof from the affairs of man. Religion to them is a monologue, pure theotropism.
The Hindu view of a supreme being is one of him or ‘it’ indifferent to his or its creation, taking on the form, not apt to broadcast any correct notions about Himself to the creation.
To the Deists of modern times, God’s transcendence implies His complete detachment and apartness form the world. They deny that God stands in any personal relation to nature and man. And because His creation is perfect, no adjustment is ever necessary. Reward and punishment are nothing more than cause and effect and there is neither need nor room for any special intervention of God in human affairs.
Plato taught the relationship of things to the transcendent is signified by the participation of the phenomenon in the idea. Aristotle took this further in saying that a god, needing nothing, will not need a friend, nor have one. A self-sufficient being whose perfection is beyond all possibility of enhancement and diminution could not be in need of any being not itself. However, the relationship of the world to the transcendent is signified by the participation of God (pathos) in the world.
Absolute distance and aloofness characterize the Supreme being in Confucianism, in which there is a reverent recognition of heaven as the source from which man derives its nature, although for the attainment of virtue little importance is attached to any communication between heaven and man.
The God of Israel however, is not a Law, but the Lawgiver (giver of a covenant). The order He established is not a rigid unchangeable structure, but a historic dynamic reality, a drama. What the prophets proclaim is not His silence, but His pathos. To understand His ways, one must obey His will.
Just so you know, this would be another point I’d emphasize again adamantly if I were preaching this out loud or on my podcast—understanding God’s ways—concerning even healing and salvation involves knowing His will.
The concept of karma would be a profound contrast to God’s pathos. Karma claims that souls have been transmigrating from the beginning, and the well-being and suffering of every individual is the result of acts committed in a previous incarnation, or another life.
From the standpoint of the strict Vedanist, karma is the law of consequences by which the amount of pain is precisely equated with the amount of wrongdoing throughout the series of re-incarnations. Such would have a hard time believing a god would have any right to come in and confound this beautiful exactitude of adjustment by freeing individual sinners from the consequences of their actions. The secret meaning of Enlightenment in Buddhism is the supreme, long strife through ages of incarnation to attain release from the universal law of moral causation (karma).
Considering the depth of the peoples’ iniquities, man may reach the conviction that the human situation could not stand the test of God’s judgment. And yet even when the people seemed to be doomed by their own deeds, the mercy and grace of God may save them from disaster.
Divine pathos may explain why justice is not meted out in this world.
However, and I directly quote Heschel since I could not reword it any better if I tried to contemporize it:
“The way to God is mediated not only by the interplay of deed and retribution. A variety of relations between God and man – multifarious modes of approach and encounter, and also the direct orientation of the inner life of man toward God as subject –are made possible and justifiable by the conception of pathos.”
The Scriptures say;
The LORD is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
Nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
As far as the east is from the west,
So far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
So the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”
Psalm 103:8, 10-14
And, as for his forgiveness and not dealing with us as our sins deserve – even when it may be disease or sickness as a result of sin, as some can be, what if He chooses to heal and that doesn’t fit our current [erroneous] theology on how, when, and why God heals? I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but how this relates to healing is the direction I will have taken this particular blog series when I’m done with it. But, as the prophet said:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your
ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Further contrasts on the idea of absolute sovereignty and supreme power; Zeus, although acknowledged as the supreme god, was not regarded as having supreme power. When his son Sarpedon was about to be slain, Zeus shed a rain of blood upon the earth, but left him to his fate, knowing that even he could not snatch a man, “whose doom has long been fated, out of the jaws of death” (see Homer’s Iliad)
In many civilizations we find a basic awareness in man of being subject to a primeval, determining power which roots him to this very life, this very time and space. The Greeks experienced it as sheer power, power that is beyond good and evil. One cannot argue with Fate.
The Stoics maintained that Fate is a force which permeates the entire universe. While to most of them it was equated with Providence. Cleanthes, in his effort to explain the existence of evil, admitted that there was a sphere of fate which Providence did not extend.
The people of Mesopotamia were led to the idea of a Necessity controlling all things, superior to the gods themselves. The Egyptians too, had a definite concept of predestined fate. Astrology, first elaborated in the temples of Mesopotamia, teaches the fatalistic belief that the apparent motions of heavenly bodies has influence on human destinies.
Divine pathos on the other hand represents a sharp antithesis to the belief in destiny or the idea of the inevitable necessity controlling the affairs of men. The God of pathos may be contrasted also with the God of Islam. For all the belief in divine mercy, Allah is essentially thought of as unqualified. Omnipotence, Whose will is absolute, not conditioned by anything man may do. He acts without regard for the specific situation of man. Since everything is determined by Him, it is a monologue that obtains between Allah and men, rather than a dialogue or a mutuality as in the biblical view. Not the relation between Allah and man, but simply Allah himself is central to Islam.
“The Koran does not describe Allah as the Father of mankind: He is throned too high for that.” - Heschel
In Greek religion, the gods are not regarded as friends of man. In Homer, gods as well as men are indifferent to crimes committed against others than themselves. It is Zeus who sends weal and woe upon mankind according to his own good pleasure.
The Sumero—Akkadian gods, with the notable exception of the benign Enki and the ethical Shamash, were not as a rule sympathetically disposed toward man. The elements of love and compassion played hardly any role.
“Man was a necessary nuisance, fashioned for the sole purpose of providing the gods with food and shelter so that they could live a life of leisure.” Plato.
“Just as the serf rarely has intimate relations with the lord of the manor, so the individual in Mesopotamia looked upon the great gods as remote forces to whom he could appeal only in some great crisis and then only through intermediaries.” – Heschel
The idea of envy or jealousy of the gods played an important role in Greek thought. It was believed that there are times when the gods seem to send calamities to man without cause and to be jealous of their own superiority and prerogatives, or even to be animated by ill-will at the sight of the prosperity of others.
All of these thoughts and ideas regarding a divine figure and man contradict in profound ways the God of Israel, the God of the Bible, and the God of grace who stoops down to deal with mankind.
This man in the form of Christ Jesus is whom we will look further at in the next couple of posts as our Healer.