The Voice of God to the Silent Agony

In The Prophets, rabbi Abraham Heschel (1907–1972) makes a compelling case that God’s prophets in the Old Testament were not merely carriers of the inspired word, they were also agents of divine passion. To the degree that “the characteristic of the prophets is not foreknowledge of the future, but insight into the present pathos of God” (298). Now that’s an overstated contrast, but you get the point. The message of the prophets exceeded what matter-of-fact language alone could contain, and this is because “the prophet hears God’s voice and feels His heart” (31). Thus, the prophets carry God’s word in God’s emotion. The two are inseparable.

Building from this pathos, Heschel addresses the nature of injustice that caught the attention of the Prophets and brought forth their prophetic ire —

The world is a proud place, full of beauty, but the prophets are scandalized, and rave as if the whole world were a slum. They make much ado about paltry things, lavishing excessive language upon trifling subjects. What if somewhere in ancient Palestine poor people have not been treated properly by the rich? So what if some old women found pleasure and edification in worshiping ‘the Queen of Heaven’? Why such immoderate excitement? Why such intense indignation? . . .

Indeed, the sort of crimes and even the amount of delinquency that fill the prophets of Israel with dismay do not go beyond that which we regard as normal, as typical ingredients of social dynamics. To us a single act of injustice — cheating in business, exploitation of the poor — is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode; to them, a catastrophe, a threat to the world. . . .

The prophet is a man who feels fiercely. God has thrust a burden upon his soul, and he is bowed and stunned at man’s fierce greed. Frightful is the agony of man; no human voice can convey its full terror. Prophecy is the voice that God has lent to the silent agony, a voice to the plundered poor. (3–6)

Above all, Heschel writes, “the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people. Few are guilty, but all are responsible” (19).

Thinking and the “Violent Visual Impact”

Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word (Eerdmans, 1985), page 221:

We are arriving at a purely emotional stage of thinking. In order to begin reacting intellectually, we need the stimulus of an image. Bare information or an article or book no longer have any effect on us. We do not begin reflecting on such a basis, but only with an illustration. We need violent visual impact if thought is to be set in motion. When we jump from image to image, we are really going from emotion to emotion: our thought moves from anger to indignation, from fear to resentment, from passion to curiosity. In this manner our thought is enriched by diversity and multiple meaning but is singularly paralyzed with respect to its specific efficacy as thought.

John Webster’s 2007 Lectures (Remastered)

Update: Per an original publishing agreement with John Webster, the remastered and downloadable mp3s must be removed from the site. I believe the Henry Center will be replacing their streaming audio files with my versions here. In light of this request, the publisher tells me they remain hopeful that these lectures will emerge in published form. This morning they tell me: “Eerdmans had a contract with Prof. Webster to publish the lectures, was in touch with him about revisions prior to his passing, and hopes to be able to bring the book out within a couple of years.”


The inaugural Kantzer Lectures, delivered by theologian John Webster between September 11–17, 2007 at the Carl F. H. Henry Center — are now legendary. Two close friends who attended the week tell me it was unforgettable.

The lectures, “Perfection & Presence: God with Us, According to the Christian Confession,” were to be edited into a final book form. But when Dr. Webster suddenly passed away two years ago, a little under a month shy of his 61st birthday, his ministry came to an end, and the hopes of the 2007 lectures becoming a book seemed to die, too.

What remains are the recordings.

The official description for the event states:

In the inauguration of the Kantzer Lectures series, distinguished Professor John Webster delivers a rich reflection upon the perfections and presence of God. The question at the center of this lectures series is the nature of human fellowship with God. The Investigation of the nature of this fellowship entails for Webster, a comprehension of the divine perfections and their relation to the Trinitarian relations and missions. From the nature of God, the Trinitarian relations and the nature of Divine presence more generally, it can then be understood more clearly what scripture means when it speaks of the Word becoming flesh. Webster offers, therefore, an extensive reflection upon the human history of the divine Word and the nature of his presence in the flesh. Finally, Webster moves to discuss the nature of the resurrected and exalted Lord’s presence, a presence manifest in his Lordship over his creatures and in the practices and Sacraments of the holy church.

Each lecture, and the preceding chapel message, have been remastered. Volume levels (which were a mess, and progressively became worse as the series progressed), have been fixed and amplified. The traveling microphone during open Q&As, sometimes used and sometimes ignored, created another host of audio leveling problems, all fixed and leveled out.

Here are the remastered MP3s:

0: Chapel Message on Mercy
1: Introduction
2: God’s Perfect Life
3: God Is Everywhere but Not Only Everywhere
4: Immanuel
5: The Presence of Christ Exalted
6: He Will Be With Them