Some thoughts on Heschel and the Uniqueness of God

 I have been reading Shai Held’s book Abraham Joshua Heschel: the Call Of Transcendence.   I have always appreciated Heschel’s desire to inculcate a God centered approach to life and faith.  I especially appreciate his writings about the “pathos of God.”  (see Heschel’s The Prophets and God in Search of Man)  For Heschel God’s pathos is his concern, commitment and participation in the affairs of man. It is the way he reacts and responds to the human condition.  It is a description of the way that that the  transcendent God becomes personal and involved.    Heschel’s “divine pathos” explains the uniqueness of the God of Israel.

Heschel’s description and understanding of the pathos of God  helps me to understand the uniqueness of God vis a vis  the Triunity of God. As I wrote in the last post I am teaching right now on the UMJC doctrinal statement and I have just finished the section on the Triunity of God. In those messages (which can be accessed at www.bethmessiahcolumbus.org) I shared that the Triunity of God describes how God can be both transcendent and personal at the same time.  In a way we could describe the incarnation of Yeshua as the “divine pathos made flesh.”  It is in Yeshua that the covenantal commitment of God to mankind reaches its highest form.  When Yeshua wept over Jerusalem, God was weeping. When Yeshua was angry with the Pharisees, God was angry.  When Yeshua reached out to the disenfranchised, God reached out.When Yeshua suffered for our sins, God suffered for our sins. The “scandalous” event of course is the death of Yeshua. Did God die? This is the mystery of    the revealed pathos of God. While God is forever the living God of the universe and knows all and is the “first and the last” and is eternal, his commitment to the salvation of mankind  caused him to identify with  the ultimate human experience – death.  As the Scriptures teach us about the humility of Yeshua,” ..who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8) This is the mystery of the incarnation.    But we know that he was raised from the dead. This communicated to us that atonement had been made and that God’s involvement in the affairs of man had brought us what no mere man could bring, that is ultimate victory over death.   Yeshua takes the revealed pathos of God to a new level -beyond Heschel’s description.  For Yeshua not only reveals the pathos of God but he  truly is the incarnation of God.  No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:18)

Also helpful to us in our understanding of the uniqueness of God  is Heschel’s description of the relationship of revelation and explanation.  Heschel writes, “the nature of revelation , being an event in the realm of the ineffable, is something which words cannot spell, which human language will never be able to portray. ” (God in Search of Man p. 184-185)  What Heschel is saying is that words  – human language – cannot  adequately describe the essence of God. We can read and accept what the Scriptures teach us but we do not have the words to describe how this can be.  Just as God convicts us of the truth of the Messiahship of  Yeshua so he also convicts us of the truth of his nature. The Scriptures teach us that “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,(Rom 8:16). We know that we are in Messiah primarily because God himself reveals this to us. May I suggest that we know that God in his essence is Father, Son and Spirit because God has revealed this to us as well. The Scriptures also testify of these truths but there is an inner conviction from God.  He has given all who embrace Yeshua this understanding – but we do not have adequate words to describe it. I think there are people who would say that they do not believe in the Triunity of God, but deep within them they do believe that Yeshua is the Lord and that the Holy Spirit does indeed dwell within them as the very presence of God but the problem is with language.

What Heschel does for us is to give us categories with which we can better  understand the  indescribable deep care, concern, love  and commitment God has to secure our atonement and salvation.  How wonderful it is that God has revealed his uniqueness to us in such a marvelous way.    Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! (Rom 11:33)


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