Compassion – the heart of God

Compassion lies at the core of all faiths and moral worldviews. This excerpt from my book, Moral Values (pp.62ff) gives a summary from the Christian faith.

The practices of compassion, grace, and generosity
best describe the ways of love, and compassion is the heart
of love because it is the heart of God. God as revealed in scripture
understood through Jesus’ life and words is a God of compassion. God listens
to those who cry out for help. God understands the suffering of people
in need because God suffers with us and revealed that willingness
to suffer with us most clearly in Jesus. God is patient, kind, gentle, merciful, caring, and
supportive. God comes alongside us to help in our times of great need.
Indeed God is always with us and is closer to us than we are to ourselves,
for we live and move and have our being in God who is life itself.


Christian faith is relational. We are called by Godto live in loving relationship
with God and with each other, with ourselves and even with creation (the way of
shalom). God’s way of being in relationship with us determines
our way of being in relationship with God and with all people. So what is
God like? What are the characteristics of God’s ways of relationship?


Compassion claims a top spot in defining divine characteristics of
relationship. Early in the biblical narrative, Moses says to God, “Now show
me your glory.” [See Exodus 33, 34] And the Lord stood there with Moses,
Compassion calling out God’s own name, defining the essence of the divine
character: The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.


This proclamation emphasizes love and forgiveness, but it also proclaims
punishment for the guilty. Yet when this refrain of God’s compassion,
mercy, and faithfulness is sung in the Psalms and the Prophets, the last
part about punishment is no longer there, as in Psalm 86:15: You, O Lord,
are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and
faithfulness.


Jesus renews the song in the Gospels with this theme of God’s compassion,
mercy, and faithfulness. Be compassionate [merciful] as your Father is
compassionate. [Luke 6:36] Love your enemies and pray for those who
persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes
the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous
and the unrighteous. [See Matthew 5:43-48]


And Paul lifts up the melody yet again, blending in beautiful harmony
with the rest, when he says: Be kind and compassionate to one another,
forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God,
therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us
and gave himself up for us. [Ephesians 4:32—5:2]


The Gospels tell story after story of the compassion of Jesus. The stories
do not need to be retold here, but remember how Jesus touched
the leper whom no one else would touch; how Jesus spoke gently to the woman
caught in the act of adultery, brought without the man and alone before
her accusers, and said, “Neither do I condemn you;” how Jesus held the children whom the
disciples would have turned away; how Jesus ate in the homes of people
called “sinners” by self-righteous citizens of the towns.

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