God’s Pathos, Broken Love

[A reflection on Jeremiah 2.4-19.]

I confess that I don’t much like love songs.

Or let me nuance that a bit.

I find most love songs,
especially those of the
“Oh baby, I love you, I love you” variety,
to be cheap, trite, and sentimental,
not to mention, usually expressions of patriarchy.

In fact I think that it is incredibly difficult
to write a good love song,
precisely because of the lack of pathos.

The best love songs are full of eros.
And by eros I don’t just mean that
these songs have an “erotic” overtone,
in the sense of sexual longing.

Rather, I mean that they have an unquenchable
longing, hunger, thirst for the intimacy of the lover.
And while there may be obstacles between lovers,
there is still a confidence that such eros can be fulfilled.

Pathos emerges when that confidence is shaken to the core.

That’s why pathos is at the heart of the blues.

Pathos is what you get when eros has been
rejected by the lover.
Pathos is born of infidelity.

The erotic longing has been so frustrated,
indeed, so denied and betrayed,
that the artist cries out,
sometimes in self-pity,
sometimes in anger,
and always in deep hurt.

Pathos is eros dripping in hurt and pain.

Jeremiah is a poet/prophet of such pathos
because he has seen into the broken heart of God.

God is the aggrieved lover
who can’t quite figure out why
the beloved has been so unfaithful.

“What wrong did I do?” God asks.
How have you so easily forgotten the story of our love?
Have all those times of intimacy and blessing meant nothing to you?
When did it happen that you stopped talking to me?
And why, my beloved, why did you get in bed with other gods?

The broken hearted God can hardly believe it.
This God looks at the neighbours and sees more fidelity
amongst the idolatrous nations than amongst the beloved people.

“Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate.”

Yahweh is singing the blues.
And it is terrible.

And yet, somehow, there is hope even here.
Somehow in naming the betrayal,
in giving voice to the hurt,
there is a glimmer of hope.

You see, without naming the pain,
without pathos,
we engage in a cover up that ends in numbness.

Maybe we even start singing cheap and sentimental
love songs all over again
to drown out the wailing of our souls.

If we are looking to find hope in this epidemic of despair,
then we do well to join Jeremiah in God’s grief,
because maybe, just maybe,
we’ll find an echo of our own grief,
our own hurt,
our own betrayals,
our own pathos.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian and the CRC Campus Minister at the University of Toronto. He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is entitled Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination.

Leave a Reply