The Pathos of God
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink."
John 7:37 ESV
Jesus wept. It is the shortest verse in the Bible and perhaps one of the most revealing. It occurred when Jesus was among a crowd of people who were mourning the death of a man named Lazarus. Overcome by emotion, Jesus joined their grief and suddenly burst into tears. He experienced what the Greeks called, pathos. Pathos is a word from which we get our word passion. His reaction confirms the Old Testament prophecy that He would be a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief. (Isaiah 53:3) However, it also reveals a truth that is difficult for us to understand. The God who created all things and reigns over his created order has emotions. He feels deeply about his creation and cares for mankind more than we can comprehend. The Lord Almighty, who is high and lifted up, holy and distinct from all created beings, eternal in the heavens, feels the same range of emotions as mankind. God experiences anger, sorrow, joy, and a myriad of feelings. God is an emotional being. This is a hard truth to comprehend much less experience.
In much the same way, man’s reaction to his own emotional life has been varied. The ancient Greeks separated their schools of thought into two categories: Epicureanism and Stoicism. The former emphasized the idea of, “eat, drink, and be merry” while the latter chose to refrain from any enjoyment or passion in life. Both extremes are to be rejected, and yet, Christianity, through the ages, has adopted the mentality of the Stoic. In response to the pagan world, where immorality rules the day, the church has reacted with extreme legalism and teachings that attempt to restrain the passions of life by edit. The seers and monks who inhabited monasteries throughout the middle ages give testament to this Stoic methodology.
In contrast to this hollow approach to Christianity is a God who celebrates His children. Zephaniah suggests that God dances over His children. “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17) The term, “exult over you” in the Hebrew means to spin around with violence, literally to dance. He has placed this same passion within us, to dance before him. Our lives are burning torches, lit brightly by the love of God. The Lord’s love for us defines our worth, igniting us with pathos. The source of God’s dance is His intense love for us.
AW Tozer wrote this concerning the love of God, “From God’s other known attributes we may learn much about His love. We can know, for instance, that because God is self-existent, His love had no beginning; because He is eternal, His love can have no end; because He is infinite, it has no limit; because He is holy, it is the quintessence of all spotless purity; because He is immense, His love is an incomprehensibly vast, bottomless, shoreless sea before which we kneel in joyful silence and from which the loftiest eloquence retreats confused and abashed.” Like endless waves crashing on the shoreline, the love of God relentlessly washes over our souls until we can no longer deny its fervor and passion. In that moment, that which we can no longer define, has become most defining feature.