A Merciful Love That Knows No Bounds

From “Abounding in Kindness:
Writings for the People of God”
by Elizabeth A. Johnson, b.1941

The natural world is not only beautiful in its harmonies. It also presents us with an unrelentingly harsh and bloody picture, filled with suffering and death. Bodily existence requires eating; hence predation is an inescapable part of the pattern of biological life. On a grand scale, the history of life itself is dependent on death; without death, there would be no evolutionary development from generation to generation. The history of life is a story of suffering and death over millions of millennia. The temptation is to deny the violence and escape into a romantic view of the natural world. But there is another option, namely, to seek the Creator Spirit in the midst of pain.

To do so, theology performs a typical manoeuvre, taking its eyes off the immediate question to consult the gospel. Christian theology interprets Jesus as the Word and Wisdom of God, the one whose life, death and resurrection reveal the character of the living God.

What do we glimpse through this lens? A merciful love that knows no bounds, a compassion that enters into the depth of human beings’ lives of sin, suffering, and terrifying death, to bring new life. An ecological vision gives theology warrant to cross the species line and extend this divine solidarity to all creatures. The Spirit of God dwells in compassionate solidarity with every living being that suffers, from the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroid to the baby impala eaten by a lioness. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without eliciting a knowing suffering in the heart of God, who constantly works to renew the face of the earth.

Such an idea is not meant to glorify suffering, a trap that must be carefully avoided. But it works out an implication of the vivifying Spirit’s relation to an evolutionary, suffering world with an eye to divine compassion. Nature’s crying out is met by the Spirit who groans with the labour pains of all creation to bring the new to birth (Rom 8:22—23). Thus is the pattern of cross and resurrection found at work on a cosmic scale.

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