Thursday, June 24

Thoughtful Thursday-Is God Compassionate?

"We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever." - Carl Sagan
"We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever." - Carl Sagan

Questions to ponder as you read the excerpt below. Remembering that Thoughtful Thursday is in the spirit of trying to enter into understanding of the other and of yourself. Ponder your social location prior to the reading below. Your social location is the things that make up who you are. I am a mother of two in the PacNW who has grown up wandering the US. One of my children is transgender. I work in the (in)justice system. This understanding of myself leads me to have a certain inclination in life. The first step in understanding others and entering into their reality is understanding yourself. Now, onward to the task.

What does this provoke in your spirit?

Can you feel something stirring in your body? Where is that located? Are you attracted or repulsed?

What do you seek to understand? Who becomes "the other?"


"A perfect and omnipotent God who creates beings capable of ruining their own happiness is impossible. ...God could have created humans with freewill who did not have the ability to choose evil, but to choose between several good options.  God is omniscient (all knowing).  When He created the universe, He saw the sufferings which humans would endure as a result of  the sin of those original humans.  He heard the screams of the damned.  Surely He would have known that it would have been better for those humans to never have been born (in fact, the bible says this very thing), and surely this all-compassionate deity would have foregone the creation of a universe destined to imperfection in which many of the humans were doomed to eternal suffering.  A perfectly compassionate being who creates beings which He knows are doomed to suffer is impossible."

Our choice, in this scenario, is to believe in a perfectly compassionate God and no eternal suffering or to believe in a God that is not fully compassionate and allows eternal suffering.

Take away all the qualities that make for a genuinely good father—wisdom, compassion, even temper, selflessness—and what you have left is Homer Simpson with his pure, mindless, dogged devotion to his family. —Paul A. Cantor, Gilligan Unbound, 2001

And then there are thoughts on compassion, love, mercy. Here are some definitions from Merriam-Webster:

  • Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it
  • Mercy: compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power
  • Love: unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another

Recently, I had a discussion with a friend about these three qualities. The idea was prompted by the thought that the ability to feel compassion requires power over someone. You have the power to alleviate suffering, therefore you have power over another. And that compassion requires suffering. Therefore, if God is compassionate, there must be suffering. And mercy is explicit that is is for people that are subject to one's power. Love is the only one that does not require power. Only love.

The biblical meaning of mercy is exceedingly rich and complex, as evidenced by the fact that several Hebrew and Greek words were used to express the concept. Consequently, there are many synonyms employed in translation to express the dimensions of meaning involved, such as “kindness,” “lovingkindness,” “goodness,” “grace,” “favor,” “pity,” “compassion,” and “steadfast love.” Prominent in the concept of mercy is the compassionate disposition to forgive offenders or adversaries and to help or spare them in their sorry plight. (Tyndale Bible dictionary, 2001)

Is God compassionate or not? Does God require suffering?

Is God merciful? This also puts God in the position of requiring suffering. So that question still stands.

Is God loving, without compassion or mercy, does that put God in a position of not having ultimate power? Is it a requirement of God (any God) to have ultimate power? Can God walk with humanity rather than hold power over?

Many ponderings this morning. What are your thoughts?

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