What is there to say of compassion?
A man desires it without measure in his own case, and exacts strict measure in the case of just about everyone else.
It is receptive generosity, and expressive meanness.
Divine compassion, on the contrary, is not about who is worthy. Worthiness is a human and arbitrary thing, dependent on the state of our hormones or digestion. Or the amount of coverage a human disaster gets on T.V.
Who other than God is able to gaze on humanity and see all the way through to our fundamental weakness and helplessness undisguised by surface arrogance, power and violence? “Father forgive them…”
This is what I sought to express in Cross Purposes. I called it “abyssal compassion,” going all the way to and beyond the very depth of our human dysfunction. Or, as Heather, the leader of our Jesus Yoga, likes to say as we lie on the floor practicing shavasana : “Jesus never looks away. His love will always be lower than us, so there is nothing we can do to place us beneath his love.”
But what does this mean in respect of God’s self, God’s being?
We are used to describing God in power motifs, all-this, all-that, everywhere, infinite, omniscient. These attributes go along with Greek philosophical notions, constructing God in concepts of measure, knowledge, power, and then denying limit to them.
The gospel does not work like that.
The cross is God’s lesson in God’s identity as nonviolence and compassion.
To gaze directly at the face of Christ’s forgiveness as nonviolence–rather than legal substitution in a higher order of violence–is to look deep in the well of God’s being; and at the same time in a mirror of infinite human transformation.
Compassion becomes something much more than a simple neural response without transcendent meaning. On the contrary, it is the divine character bar none.
Compassion is the pouring out of self for and to the other. As revealed and practised by G-d it is a mode of being which overtakes being itself. Compassion is more than being. It transforms the ultimate, most irreducible form of being–death, into life.
The biblical God has never been a monolith, a super-perfect crystal being, entirely in and for itself, without the other in any part. The moment God, Yahweh, Allah reaches out to human beings in any kind of historical commitment that God has introduced otherness into the divine self. God becomes other to Godself by placing God’s life in relation to the other. The genius of Christianity is to say clearly and unequivocally that divine self-otherness is not just a contingency of historical involvement but belongs intrinsically to divine being. So it is that before being there is divine self-other.
But because of the detour of Christian theology through philosophical categories this personal character of God is missed. Or at least misunderstood, on the analogy of the vagaries of human compassion.
But if G-d is essentially compassion then there is no depth that is deep enough to hold G-d or any concept able to grasp God. G-d is formally unknowable as compassion; but G-d is lovable as compassion, and this indeed is the true way to know G-d, and all we need to know.
By love we know G-d as compassion; and because of that we can say, at a second moment, compassion is truth. Or being crosses over into compassion.
Compassion becomes the ultimate character of the universe. How exactly this works we are not sure. But Easter declares it. And it is a truth to live by.