A Prophet’s Pathos

Instead of seeing prophets as primarily predictors of the future, Heschel wants us to see them as expositors of divine pathos.  The prophets have a deep relationship with Yahweh and thus are attune to his emotional life.  The Heschel quote for this paper states that a prophet is in “fellowship with the feelings of God”.  This is an intimate picture of the prophet’s knowledge of the divine pathos.  It explains why the prophet’s words are so vivid and full of emotion.  Such a deep relationship with divine pathos gives the prophet unparalleled insight into God’s emotions, as God’s pathos begin to impact their own emotions.  With such a deep connection between the prophet and the divine pathos, we can see the prophet’s emotion as reflecting God’s emotions.  Heschel’s perspective will illuminate the prophets as we will see in Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

In the second half of Jeremiah 4, we get a startling picture of what is to become of God’s people.  Jeremiah has heard the trumpet sound and battle cry, soon “disaster follows disaster” and the land will be ruined.  Why this destruction? He tells Judah in verse 18, “Your own conduct and actions have brought this on you.”  When addressing the people, Jeremiah as the prophet takes God’s view and tells them that they are skilled in doing evil and don’t know how to do good.  In his participation with the divine pathos, he wouldn’t just know that God is angry, but would have felt God’s fierce anger in verse 26.  That’s why he is able to write that God “will not relent….and will not turn back” in verse 28.  God’s pathos is not divorced from his ethos, but they both influence one another.  This only makes God’s anger fiercer, for it is just.  Judah has only fostered anger in the divine pathos, and now they will be left crying like a birthing mother.

Jeremiah can’t help but to lament in despair in verse 19. He is clearly distressed about the eminent destruction of Judah.  Beyond that, he has agony in his heart because their “own conduct and actions” have brought this on themselves.  As a prophet, the pain of his anguish gives us insight into God and the pain felt in the divine pathos.  Just because God’s fierce anger is bringing destruction that he won’t relent from, doesn’t mean he is pleased to be doing this destruction.  If Jeremiah is in communion with God’s feelings and is affected by them, then Jeremiah’s emotions will be mixed in with God’s emotions.  Jeremiah’s expression of despair, sadness, and sorrow in the destruction of Judah will also be a communication of God’s own feelings of despair, sadness, and sorrow.  This shows a personal God who isn’t unconcerned with the circumstances of his people.  God’s people being in pain brings God pain.  

As we turn to our second passage of Jeremiah 12:7-17, we see a lot of the same emotions being expressed.  Again, we see the phrase “fierce anger” in verse 13.  Verses 7-12 leading up to it are expressions of indignation and descriptions of desolation.  However, beyond just anger and wrath, I think we see hurt in this passage in the divine pathos.  In verses 7-10, Jeremiah brings out God’s stake and involvement in the circumstances of Jerusalem by constantly referring to everything as “my”.  God is in a predicament where that which he has attached himself to “roars at him” so he must bring ruin to it.  Verse 8 says he now hates his inheritance and verse 10 details the demise of his land.  Jeremiah senses an anger in the divine pathos fierce enough that it will destroy all that is precious to it.  There’s also a sense of attachment to that which belongs to God that he must name his possession of it, even though it will be ruined.  This need to be clear that God is destroying his own possession sheds light on the pain and hurt in the divine pathos in this event.

After proclaiming the doom of God’s people and his land, he ends the chapter with hope to look towards.  God now speaks to those wicked neighbors who are coming to seize Judah’s inheritance.  Yahweh is clear that he will uproot them, but as we have seen, the divine pathos isn’t only filled with anger.  We must remember that God’s emotions aren’t unreasoned and irrational but intentional.  Anger is thought through and doesn’t control God, and thus allows room for the prophet to detect care within God’s emotions.  Despite wrath being intense, God still feels compassion for people, and wants to give them an opportunity to avoid annihilation.  So, God declares that in verses 15-16 he will show compassion and bring those wicked neighbors back to their homelands.  He even will establish them with his people if they learn well his ways.  If they reject his ways though, they will be met with devastation.  Again, we are seeing the pathos being influenced by God’s ethos.  Whether God’s ways are upheld or not has serious ramifications and implications on the divine pathos, which as we have seen moves God to act.

In our final passage in Ezekiel 4, there is a focus on the sin of Israel and Judah in verses 4-6.  In the final verse of the chapter, God ends it with proclaiming that the people “will waste away because of their sin”.  The interesting thing is this passage lacks emotional words.  In the first three verses of the chapter, God describes to Ezekiel how to make a model of Judah being sieged but doesn’t show emotion towards it.  Even with the lack of emotional adjectives, we do get a sense of the divine pathos in verse 13.  God says they will eat defiled food among the nations that “I will drive them”.  God is clear that he is actively bringing about Judah’s exile.  Not only will they be driven from their land to a different nation, but they will eat defiled food.  God here is adding insult to injury.  The prophet is highlighting the loss of generosity in the divine pathos for Judah at this moment and its desire for retribution and punishment.

In this passage, we have our only occasion of an interaction between God and the prophet, and it is an instance of deviance.  God tells Ezekiel to eat food using human excrement as it’s fuel for the fire.  Ezekiel immediately objects by saying, “Not so…. No impure meat has ever entered my mouth.”  God wanted this to be a metaphor for how the people will eat “defiled” food in exile.  Instead of rebuking Jeremiah’s deviance, God instantly relents and honors Ezekiel’s objection by responding with, “Very well”.  Ezekiel’s connection to the divine pathos has created space for him to levy his concerns to God, and for God to take those serious and grant his requests.  This reminds us that God and his pathos aren’t locked up in some infinite eternal state but can respond and react to humans and their requests.  This leaves room to think that God’s decrees on Judah don’t necessarily have to be final.  Yet, to move God, they need to appeal to his pathos as Ezekiel did by focusing on his obedience to God and his commands.  This is exactly what Judah refuses to do and faces the fiery of the divine pathos.  

Divine pathos and the prophet are intimately linked together.  The prophet is commissioned to express and communicate God’s emotions to the people.  The prophet doesn’t go unaffected from their experience with God’s feelings.  The feelings of the divine inevitably begin to leak into the prophet and become the feelings of the prophet.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel show us how one navigates the expanse of divine emotions.  Divine emotions are real, but not final.  God genuinely responds to people and events in history and so can have a change of emotions and be motivated to perform different acts.  These emotions don’t control him though, and his pathos is thought out and intentional.  The divine pathos is complex and complicated and can consist of multiple emotions at once and the prophet is given access to this to proclaim to the world.  Sometimes it brings condemnation and judgment and sometimes compassion, mercy and grace.

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