Compassion and presence: the church’s calling

The same central point is made: the justice of the biblical prophetic imagination is grounded in compassion. And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the story of the cross and resurrection. The cross is the very embrace of the dialectical tension between justice and compassion.

Compassion is a radical critique of the imperial imagination because it announces that the hurt of the people, even of one’s enemies, will not be disregarded but will be taken seriously. To do otherwise is to make pain normative, injustice permissible, and evil god. Empires live in callous disregard to the human pain which they require to sustain themselves. God and God’s people live in compassionate empathy with the broken ones. God and God’s people offer hope to the hopeless.

There is therefore a fundamental clash between these two imaginations. The justice of the cross-resurrection is compassionate; royal justice is dispassionate. The justice of the cross-resurrection renews and energises sinners despite their unworthiness; royal justice makes demands on the basis of rights derived from constitutions and charters, and always the constitutions are more important than the people. – Echoes of the Word, 196

The church’s nature is to be at the very heart of all of life – with its evil, its pain, its joy, and its rebirth. There it is called to be the church, to live salvation, mercy forgiveness, and peace. The church must guard itself from identifying any one expression of enslavement and hostility as the sole enslavement, or even the most urgent one. This is to misunderstand the nature of the church, and the nature of evil. Evil does not go away when one representation of it has been redeemed. Neither should the church.

Therefore for us to have redeemed one violent situation, however laudable and merciful it might be, must never be seen as having fulfilled our mission. The church is called by its very nature to concentrate on not being seduced by the powers of the world into accepting the smaller forms of evil in exchange for the larger ones. The incarnational structure of the church will not permit this. It is to be present, rooted in the lives of men, women, and children, transforming all corners of darkness into energising light and hope. The church does not leave when evil becomes rampant; nor does it leave when a task is completed. For the insidious nature of evil is such that the task is never completed. In fact to think of our presence in terms of tasks that are capable of being completed is to think of the church in terms of something other than it is. – Echoes of the Word, 199

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