A Call for Deeper Engagement Today
Two modern theologians that help us think more deeply about compassion are Jürgen Moltmann, who shapes our understanding of the compassion of God; and Jon Sobrino, who reminds us of the dimensions of human compassion.
Jürgen Moltmann was a high school student and reserve soldier in Germany during World War II. He was taken to Scotland as a prisoner of war and became a Christian through the compassionate witness of local believers. Moltmann’s book The Crucified God makes reference to the Jewish Rabbi Abraham Heschel’s concept of the pathos of God. This pathos is not “irrational human emotions,” but rather the deep feelings of God who is affected by events, human actions and suffering in history. Moltmann writes, “He is affected by them because he is interested in his creation, his people . . .” The pathos of God is contrasted with the apatheia of the gods of other religions in the ancient world that were unable to feel or be influenced by human events. Centuries later this apatheia is encountered in the beliefs of some other religions and in the secular ideologies of consumerism and wealth generation. For most people today, the powers that sway the universe remain distant and uncaring. We agree with Moltmann that compassion is a divine attribute fundamental to God’s nature. We cannot think of the God of the Christian faith apart from his compassion for people and his creation.
Jon Sobrino is a Jesuit priest from El Salvador. He wrote about “the mercy principle” after his country was shaken by
two major earthquakes. Sobrino observes that compassion is a profound emotional reaction to human suffering. Compassion compels us to personally identify with people who are strangers. We are willing to cross cultural boundaries in order to enter into their lives. Compassion speaks to our hearts about concrete actions of mercy and justice. Through compassion we work to preserve the dignity and well-being of those who suffer from life’s wounds. Moved by compassion, people may make extraordinary sacrifices to serve others in need. It is our life’s calling, as followers of Christ.
We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love other; let us show the truth by our actions. (1 John 3:16-18)