We are Not Alone: Heschel’s God of Pathos


In his chapter on “The Theology of Pathos,” Abraham Heschel describes God’s “passionate summons” to the world which “basically defines the prophetic consciousness of God.”[1] Heshcel names this “dynamic relation between God and [humanity]” as pathos; it is the prophetic kind of “knowledge of God” attained not “by syllogism, analysis, or induction” but by fellowship with God, “by living together.”[2] God’s pathos is God’s intimate involvement in the history of creation whereby God is actually affected by and responds to the events and happenings of the world.

God freely decides to participate in human history because “the predicament of [humanity] is a predicament of God Who has a stake in the human situation.”[3] The pathos of God changes everything; history can no longer be seen as some autonomous drama moved and shaped by the independent actions of “free” human persons because humanity is not alone. The One in whose image humanity is created has chosen to make it “a consort, a partner, a factor in the life of God.”[4]

God’s pathos, the “living care” of creation, is the fundamental “dynamic modality” of all living things – not alienation from God due to sin or brokenness.[5] God’s pathos reveals how God’s loving desire for just, personal, reciprocal relationships between, among, within, and throughout God’s creation and Godself makes possible a “living encounter between God and [God’s] people.”[6]

As I read this chapter, I felt God tearing away my deeply embedded images of God as the “Wholly Other”: the One who is remote, uninvolved, and unconcerned. I was surprised to discover that my theology still contained Deistic tendencies which could not prepare me to truly know the God Heschel portrays as One who acts so powerfully in human history in order to create intimate relationships of love and justice with and among all people, myself included. As my embedded theology crumbled, I felt the peace of God’s abiding presence and a sense of wonder and awe in a God who can be so ultimate, almighty, and awesome, yet still able to come so close. The pathos of God captured me in a new and more complete way; God is more real now than ever before.


[1] Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, 289.

[2] Ibid., 288.

[3] Ibid., 291.

[4] Ibid., 292.

[5] Ibid., 289, 296.

[6] Ibid., 296.

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