God’s compassion could be seen as the meaning of his mission at a time when profit at any price, the destruction of nature, and indifference to the suffering of millions of human beings reign supreme. Faced with this situation we must find a viable alternative. The Pastor of the Lutheran Church of Brazil, Roberto Zwetsch shares his views.
Our search is not simply political, economic, and social. It even challenges the Churches and their theological responses to the signs of the times. From this derives the importance of thinking of mission and theology starting from compassion. It will not be easy to depend on divine compassion if we consider only the witness of the Christian Churches. Their historical divisions, the scandals that undermine the credibility of the Gospel of peace, justice, and reconciliation are shaking the very foundations of the Churches that confess Jesus as Lord and Master. It follows that, without the presence of the Holy Spirit who transforms both Churches and people, nothing can be done about this.
Compassion is the sister of justice
God’s compassion becomes historically concrete when it is accompanied by justice. The God of the Bible is the God of justice. These two realities express what we can understand as the love of God or hesed, so central to the prophet Hosea’s message. It is an ally to God’s compassion. Justice, and all that works to promote it, represents the prophetic dimension of the missio Dei (mission of God). It is clear from both the Old and New Testaments that compassion and mercy express both what the God of Jesus offers, and, at the same time, expects from his followers, his disciples, his sons and daughters and, by extension, from his Church.
Compassion as liberation
The Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff affirms that God, by assuming suffering, did not accept the absurdity of the cross as his limit. He assumes the absurd “not in order to divinise it or to render it eternal but to show the dimensions of his glory which exceed any light from the human logos and any darkness coming from the heart. God assumes the cross in solidarity with and loving those crucified. He tells them that, however absurd, the cross may be a path of great liberation. Provided that you assume it in freedom and love.” Furthermore, Boff shows how suffering for the struggle against injustice and for the liberation of the impoverished present an incomparable human dignity. We may say the same about the suffering of those persecuted for the sake of the Gospel and the proclamation of God’s love. This suffering can denounce and deny the evils of the system dominating the world, since suffering takes its life from divine love. “Therefore, the one who suffers, a victim of the violence of the system, is free and happy, being gripped by the true Absolute which gives meaning to persecution and death. The world that God has promised is so real that no death, however violent, is suffered as destruction.”
The encounter with the crucified God, in his passion, gains a true conversion by means of which one’s entire life receives new value and takes a new direction. It is an experience of grace and pardon, hope and freedom, which frees the person from an enslaving past and provides new foundations on which to reorient their life. The Brazilian theologian Boff explains this experience better as rooting oneself in God, the foundation of the new being, as happened in the life of Jesus. This process of conversion never ends. It is subject to the dialectic of the sinner-justified one. Lutheran theology calls this sola gratia, sola fede, which historically manifests itself in the oppressed being who becomes free and a liberator. Boff defined this aspect of the life of faith as homo simul iustus et liberatus, semper liberandus. The human being is, at the same time, just and freed, always to be freed, beginning with the cross and the hope that is born from it, “For in hope we were saved” (Rm 8:24).
Compassion: to allow oneself to be passionate about God’s mercy
The mission of God entails the struggle for life. Resistance to God’s love is constant in this world, both in church institutions and in our individual lives. The dialectic of life is made of sin and grace. Consequently, we need to allow ourselves to become passionate about the mercy of God. The prophetic language of the Old Testament expresses the idea with the metaphor “being viscerally moved.” God loves humanity like a mother who, from her maternal womb, fights for her sons and daughters. Only the merciful and the pure of heart will know God (cf. Mt 5:7ff). Compassion is an attempt to show that the mission regards all people and all the Church. In recent decades in Latin America many Churches have seen difficult times, times of renewal and of persecution. We may even say that there has been a rediscovery of the transforming power of the Gospel, in terms of liberation, in a historic experience of captivity. In this sense, the mission that does not meet with resistance is missing a central dimension of the experience of Christian faith. There is no resurrection without the cross. Besides, glory belongs to God and the glory of God, as St. Irenaeus says, is the living human being. The renewal of the mission comes about precisely in times of the cross in which we experience, as individuals and as Churches, the limits of our passion and of our infidelity. Christian hope that is born of the cross and receives its seal in the resurrection does not deceive itself. At the same time, Jesus himself left us in no doubt: “No slave is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (Jn 15:20; cf. Mt 5:10ff).
Mission as compassion requires, therefore, that it be carried out as a theology of the mission beginning with the crucified of today who cry out to God who hears the appeal of his people (Ex 3:7-9). First, we need to consider the relationship between mission and context, which would require a hermeneutic of the mission. As to the liberating dimension of the mission, we need to study how it relates to cultures and the pedagogy of hope. Then we must clarify its ecclesiological dimension: the mission is the central task of the Church and its primary vocation. Especially in a society marked by religious competition, it does not coincide with proselytising. In this sense, it demands missionary reflection in an ecumenical perspective, which refers to the credibility of the Gospel, without which we risk dispersing the efforts the Churches are making to spread the Good News. Afterwards, we need to underline the ecological dimension for the defence of nature threatened by global warming, the greenhouse effect, and the projected environmental catastrophes that this century will face, with terrible consequences, especially in the poorest countries and in the most vulnerable sectors of the world population. The theology of mission starts from the missio Dei and reminds the Church that it exists for and with the world, questioning the missionary dimension of its evangelising action. Finally, we must bring out the basis of the theology of mission: the relationship between mission and spirituality understood as the ambit of the action of the liberating Spirit of Christ who is the centre of God’s work in this world. In him, and by following in his footsteps, we learn to live the supreme liberty of the children of God, which means love, mercy, solidarity, and compassion.