Tag Archives | HarperCollins

Sin is an Adverb | Abraham J. Heschel

Abraham J. HeschelTo the prophets, sin is not an ultimate, irreducible or independent condition, but rather a disturbance in the relationship between God and man; it is an adverb not a noun, a condition that can be surmounted by man’s return and God’s forgiveness.

—Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 295.

Obscene Violence | Abraham J. Heschel

Abraham J. HeschelWhen the prophets appeared, they proclaimed that might is not supreme, that the sword is an abomination, that violence is obscene. The sword, they said, shall be destroyed.

—Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 203.

God as Subject | Abraham J. Heschel

Abraham J. HeschelGod is never an “it,” but is constantly given as a personal spirit, manifesting Himself as subject even in the act of thought addressed to Him. Those who objectify Him falsify Him. Those who surrender to Him are approached by Him.

—Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 622.

The Prophets | Abraham J. Heschel

The cover of Heschel's The ProphetsThe Hebrew prophets are fascinating. They were an important part of Israel’s life, yet they often spoke of their rulers in very unflattering terms. When national life turned sour, the prophets were there to interpret geopolitical events from God’s perspective.

History to us is the record of human experience; to the prophet it is a record of God’s experience. (219)

In other words:

Prophecy, then, may be described as exegesis of existence from a divine perspective. (xxvii)

Abraham Heschel’s lengthy study on the prophets is poetic and insightful. The first half of the book is a survey of the various prophets and the main themes that consumed them. If you have ever struggled with reading the prophets, these chapters are a goldmine of information and inspiration.

The second half of the book is concerned with the prophets themselves. How is it that humans can speak for God? The answer centres on Heschel’s idea of God’s pathos. For Heschel, the Holy One of Israel, Maker of heaven and earth, is utterly transcendent. God never reveals himself to humans. Instead, he reveals his pathos.

The pathos of God is his heart of God for man, which takes on various forms such as “love and anger, grief and joy, mercy and wrath” (618). This is what the prophet engages when he or she encounters God. From the perspective of a prophet:

God’s presence is my first thought; His unity and transcendence, my second; His concern and involvement (justice and compassion), my third. (619)

Prophets are so in touch with God, they are able to sympathize with God’s pathos. Matters which may seem small to humans such as imbalanced scales take on cosmic importance when viewed through God’s justice.

The prophets are so moved by their encounters with God that they can seem unhinged to the rest of the world. Unlike the diviners of other contemporary cultures, however, they are not mad. The Hebrew prophets did not lose themselves in some sort of mystical absorption into the divine. Prophets (like Habakkuk, for example) can engage God in dialogue. They bring their own lives into the prophetic process.

I need to challenge Heschel on one point. He insists that the prophets never encounter the transcendent God. Instead, they encounter God-towards-man, or God’s pathos. “Revelation means, not that God makes Himself known, but that He makes His will known” (620). From a Christian perspective, the miracle of the incarnation is precisely that God has made Himself known in Jesus. In a very real sense, Jesus is the pathos of God made flesh.

Heschel’s comprehensive study of the Hebrew Prophets deserves continued engagement today.

—Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: HarperCollins, 2001).

Area X | Jeff Vandermeer

The cover of Vandermeer's Area XThe Southern Reach Trilogy begins with what sounds like the set-up for a joke: a biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist walk into … but this story is no joke. These four people comprise the twelfth expedition into Area X, a place cut off from the rest of the world, accessible only through a “doorway” in the Southern Reach.

I paused before selecting a genre for this review. It’s equal parts science fiction, fantasy, horror, dystopian fiction, and mystery. The first book in particular, Annihilation, keeps you revising your views as more data comes to light. This is page turning fiction at its best.

As I read, H. P. Lovecraft kept coming to mind. Both Lovecraft and Vandermeer wrestle with the idea of an unspeakable, incomprehensible horror from outside any human frame of reference. How do we come to grips with something wholly other? Area X represents an existential threat to humanity.

Area X is one of the most unique and gripping trilogies I have ever read.

—Jeff Vandermeer, Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy (Toronto: HarperCollins, 2014).

Seveneves | Neal Stephenson

The cover of Stephenson's Seveneves“Five Thousand Years Later” (569).

Stephenson is no stranger to epic stories. Consider his three volume, eight book, 3,000 word Baroque Trilogy! Still, how do you write a unified story that hinges on the words, “five thousand years later”? Stephenson accomplishes it with style.

He begins the story with these words:

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason. (3)

The book tells the tale of what that explosion would entail and how humanity would respond in the ultimate survival situation.

Seveneves is a science-fiction book with a strong emphasis on science. Much of the sprawling page-count is devoted to explaining theoretical technology. Don’t let that dissuade you, though. Stephenson instructs in the context of the narrative without making the dialogue feeling forced or artificial.

This is simply the best science fiction book I have read in over a decade. (I don’t say that lightly either—I checked my archived reviews!) Seveneves is a page-turner with enough substance to hold the readers mind over many late nights.

—Neal Stephenson, Seveneves (New York: William Morrow, 2015).

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