Can a woman forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you.
(Isaiah 49:15)

JUST AS GOD’S LOVE IS AS TENDER AS A MOTHER’S LOVE, IT IS ALSO AS COMPASSIONATE. A mother would sooner forget her nursing child than God would fail to act with compassion. “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son . . . I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck. I stooped and fed them” (Hosea 11:1,4). Even if unrepentant rebellion requires our final banishment from God, we can be sure that the sentence will be pronounced with nothing less than a broken heart. We will have rejected a compassionate love very much like a mother’s.

Robert Fulghum once made an interesting comment about Teresa of Calcutta. Arguing that she was one of the most powerful people in the world at the time, he wrote, “No shah or president or king or general or scientist or pope; no banker or merchant or cartel or oil company or ayatollah holds the key to as much power as she has. None is as rich. For hers is the invincible weapon against the evils of this earth: the caring heart. And hers are the everlasting riches of this life: the wealth of the compassionate spirit.” It is compassion, far more than any other quality, that encourages people to be willing to be influenced. People really do not care how much we know until they know how much we care.

This is precisely why the story of the Cross is so powerful. It is from first to last a story of compassion, and those who refuse to be touched by compassion would only be hardened by any other means of influence. If God’s chosen means of influence is compassionate love, we should be slow to use any “stronger” or “more effective” means. Moreover, if we truly hope to see others influenced by compassion, we must be ready to do the same difficult thing that God did. We must be ready, when the time comes, not only to suffer with others, but also to suffer for them. It has always been mothers, more than anyone else, who understand this.

“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it” (Henri J. M. Nouwen).

Gary Henry — +

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