The Suffering of the World and the Pathos of YHWH (Conclusion)

It is precisely at this juncture that the canopy must open wide to incorporate a more inclusive view of God’s pathos towards all of humanity. However, this goal can only be reached by reviewing Israel’s divine destiny. Israel’s destiny, as has previously been mentioned, was one that found its locale in a vision for universal redemption. It is in Deutero-Isaiah where the prophet artistically reveals just what it will take for Israel to accomplish this mission. Yet, as it will be made clear, Israel opts out of its covenantal destiny for fear that it will be too costly.

Tragically, by Israel embracing a posture of exclusivity, Israel counteracts the universality of YHWH’s vision. Theologian J. Kameron Carter reflects on Israel’s divine destiny when he stresses that, “Israel, [was to be] a nation and people unlike any other, a nation without analogy.”1 For Carter, Israel’s uniqueness lies in its mandate to incorporate outside nations into its covenantal relationship with YHWH. “The drama of Israel thus is not insular,” says Carter, “for it unfolds in such a way as to enfold the nations into its drama and thereby into the theodramatic constitution of existence or creation as such.”2 Carter’s interpretation of Israel’s destiny can be harmonized with the biblical witness (Gen. 22:18). Despite this evocative mandate, Israel turns inward on itself. The question that must be asked is “Why?”

Bright argues that it is in Deutero-Isaiah where the prophet answers this question. The mission proposed by the prophet is a familiar one but a new image enters the picture. Israel is to take on the role of a “suffering servant,” inviting those outside their national and ethnic boundaries to join YHWH’s redemptive community (Is. 45:20-23, 56:7-8).Bright insists that this “widehearted” theology becomes most apparent as the prophet exclaims that YHWH’s house will be a sanctuary for “all people” and that YHWH will even choose foreigners to serve as priests and Levites (Is. 56:7; 66:18-21).4 As YHWH’s ambassadors, the house of Jacob is commissioned to go to the very “ends of the earth” so that all might hear of YHWH’s redemptive schema (Is. 49:5-6).

This destiny presents itself as a paradox. Bright acknowledges this through an analysis of the Servant songs. Bright asserts that this destiny is one of “humiliation, suffering, defeat—and yet nevertheless of victory.”5 Moreover, the “Servant” image itself is subject to unstable interpretations. Bright explains that this suffering Servant motif demonstrates some fluidity, as on the one hand, the Servant is Israel (Is. 41:8, 43:10, 44:21, 45:4) but at other times the imagery seemingly anticipates the coming Messiah (Is. 52:13-53:12).6 Regardless, the redemptive move of God can be read as such: YHWH, through both Israel and the anticipated Messiah, demonstrates an incessant aching for all tongues, tribes and nations to be redeemed. Israel is uninterested in this “divine future” for the world.7 This is understandable considering that the path required is one of mysterious victory through defeat. YHWH, of course, still makes good on previous agreements. But the promise of a Messianic-King does not materialize itself until a distant future. When this epoch arrives and the prophecies are fulfilled, the Servant becomes a “stumbling block” to some and mere “foolishness” to others (I Cor. 1:23; cf. Is. 52:13-53:12).

It is quite right then to suggest that YHWH asked Israel to mimic her pathos and concern for the world. This request should not be interpreted as a sadistic deity’s demand for pain but should instead be understood as YHWH beckoning Israel to take up the cause of the sojourner, the widow and the orphan (Ex. 22:21-24, 23:9; Is. 1:17; Jer. 22:3; Micah 6:8). Carter contends that Israel was to show “care” and “hospitality” towards those “on the underside of history.”8 Divine pathos demands a critique of dominant systems that perpetuate exploitative practices and oppressive ideologies. Thus, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right to surmise that, “The Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help.”9 Out of YHWH’s divine pathos for the totality of the world Israel receives its destiny. As it has been demonstrated, the pathos of YHWH obsessively works for the redemption of the entire human race. Truly, the suffering of God cannot be overplayed.
Josiah R. Daniels


[1] J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account, 170.

[2] Ibid.,170.

[3] Bright, The Kingdom Of God, 144-145.

[4] Ibid., 145-146.

[5] Ibid., 146.

[6] Ibid., 147, 151-153.

[7] Ibid., 153, 162.

[8] Carter, Race, 172.

[9] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Letters and Papers from Prison, 479.

Painting by Pablo Picasso, 1937, Guernica.

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