Revolutionary Sympathy

My understanding of the role of a prophet has been shaped by the insights of two wonderful theologians, Abraham Heschel, and Walter Breuggemann.

Abraham Heschel was a Polish-born American rabbi and one of the leading Jewish theologians of the twentieth century. Heschel was not only a professor of Jewish Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, he was also was an activist in the American civil rights movement, marching alongside Martin Luther King Jr from Selma to Montgomery.

Heschel authored a number of widely read books, the most influential of which was his two volume masterpiece on The Prophets first published in 1962. In the first volume Heschel surveyed the various messages of the different prophets in the bible, then in the second volume he delved into the meaning of the singular essential prophetic experience that all the prophets shared.

For Heschel the essential prophetic experience is ‘sympathy’ with God. He says the God of the Bible is not ‘apathetic’ and ‘nonresponsive’, but ‘empathic’ and ‘compassionate’. He cites Jeremiah, who says, God grieves with us when we are hurt: ‘For the wound of the daughter of my people, is my heart wounded – my grief is beyond healing!’ (Jer. 8:21–22) He cites Zephaniah, who says, God rejoices over us when we are happy: ‘God … will rejoice over you with joy … he will joy over you with singing. (Zeph. 3:17) Heschel says, the prophet is one who ‘sympathises’ with God in his agony and ecstasy.

Heshchel argues that sympathy with God is possible, not because God is ‘anthropomorphic’ – our having made God in our own image, but because God is ‘anthropopathetic’ – God having made humanity in God’s own image. As men and women, made in the image of an ‘empathic’, ‘compassionate’ God we are made to feel angry, with God, when hear about instances of injustice, and we are made to feel delighted, with God, when see that justice is done.

The first book I wrote asked the question – ‘Can You Hear The Heartbeat?’ – as in ‘Can You Hear The Heartbeat (of God)?’ I asked the question out loud, including anyone who would hear me, but I addressed the question first and foremost to myself, as ‘wannabe’ prophet, following in the footsteps of Jesus.

I can remember writing at the time, in a chapter appropriately entitled. Revolutionary Sympathy’, that: ‘Being a devotee of Jesus is not a matter of subscribing to certain set of dogmas, obeying rules and regulations, and getting others to subordinate themselves to them. The essence of being a devotee of Jesus is to live in sympathy with God as Jesus did; feeling the throb of God’s heartbeat, and teaching our hearts to learn to beat in sync with the love that sustains the universe. It means developing our capacity to intuitively sense what causes love pleasure, and what causes love pain, and doing everything we can to enhance the pleasure, and to diminish the pain.

‘According to Jesus, God is overjoyed whenever love becomes reality in our lives, and we seek to do justice to one another, in spirit and in truth. According to Jesus, God is agonised whenever we forget to remember to love one another, and neglect our responsibility to do justice to one another. Whenever we share our food with the hungry, Jesus says, God smiles with pure delight. But whenever we plunge the knife of oppression into the heart of the poor, Jesus tells us, that God, himself, is actually struck a mortal blow.’

This ‘revolutionary sympathy’ is at the very heart of my prophetic spirituality.

 

Lord, Lord

I want to be with you forever.

Be with you. Be with you That’s all I care for.

 

You’re the dream I dream each night

The work each day I do

You’re the hope I have in my life

I want to live my life for you.

 

Live my life for you, Lord

Live my life for you.

You’re the hope I have in my life

Want to live my life,

Want to live my life

Want to live my life for you.

 

Lord, Lord

I want to walk with you all the way.

Walk with you. Walk with you. Come what may

 

You’re the dream I dream each night

The work each day I do

You’re the hope I have in my life

I want to live my life for you.

 

Live my life for you, Lord

Live my life for you.

You’re the hope I have in my life

Want to live my life,

Want to live my life

Want to live my life for you.

 

Live My Life For You (mp3) (sheet music)

 

Dave Andrews

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