"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Divine Pity's Startling Character

Of all the interactions inherent in human nature, few are as generally unwelcome as pity.  Quite often, the one receiving the pity perceives (or at least presumes) some sort of falseness in the one giving the pity:  it is a forced compassion, and therefore unwelcome.  At other times, the pity is all too genuine, but is obstructed from its intent when it collides full-force with human pride:  "I am hardly one who requires pity, least of all from the likes of you.  I will get this matter sorted out on my own, or do you regard your own assistance as so indispensible?" 

Such is the lot of human pity, for better or worse, but what of God's pity?  Both the Old and New Testament provide pictures of divine pity for our consideration.  If we examine the typical objections to pity mentioned above, we see that the first objection is wholly without merit:  an omnipresent, omnipotent God is above mistake, and an unchangingly holy God never dissembles.  If He dispenses compassion, it is markedly deserved.

The second objection, however, is unabashedly true - it surely raises the hackles of human pride (although it is folly to voice this as an objection of any sort; amen?).  Interestingly, if I seek to dole out compassion where I feel it due, but am held apart by pride in the one whom I seek to pity, I may well endeavor to assuage the pride which now crouches in my path:  "Of course I know you do not need my help; I merely thought to encourage you.  It would, as you see, be doing me a favor, were you to allow me this opportunity to deal you some small kindness."  God, however, never works to leave pride undisturbed; He never seeks to mask His intents against it, and He does nothing to appease human dignity. 

It is as if the human says, "Do you suppose I need your help in this matter?", and so forth, and God replies, "Yes, you absolutely need My help in this matter, as in all matters.  You need it just as certainly as you do not deserve it."  You see that God will not suffer His compassion to work alongside unchecked human pride.  This much is clear from Jeremiah 13:14-15:  "'I will dash them against each other, both the fathers and the sons together,' declares the Lord. 'I will not show pity nor be sorry nor have compassion so as not to destroy them.'  Listen and give heed, do not be haughty, for the Lord has spoken."  Cling to your pride, then, and God will surely cling to His pity as well.  Cling to your pride and be prepared to trade it for devastation (cf. Judges 2:18).

Someone now says, "This is not the manner in which pity works.  One cannot place conditions upon pity!"  Of course we may.  We do so all the time.  I can offer any measure of pity, but if it is scorned, I withdraw it.  What good does any other course do?  And how much more will this be the case with a God who immovably and zealously abhors human pride in its many serpentine forms? 

Divine compassion is in divine keeping, to a degree that escapes a lot of humans.  Many people cannot help it; pity gushes forth from them at every apparent injustice.  They are like open barrels on the deck of a pitching vessel - they are easily moved about, and every movement will cause them to spill.  God, however, is quite judicious with his pity, and is never governed by it.  He says, "I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." (Rom. 9:15b)

Hold a moment, Josh.  Do you mean to say that He can simply switch His pity off and on at any moment?  Yes, indeed.  It can be no other way, if He is Master of Himself.  As all of us are, apart from God, subject to all the wondrous and terrifying force of His wrath, the marvel is not that He is able to stifle pity, for we deserve none.  The truly wonderful fact is that God has so perfect and infinite a measure of steadfast, selfless love that, in spite of our abominable misuse of God's gifts, He is able to summon pity as He sovereignly desires, a compassion so genuine, indeed so heartfelt, that it assures divine blessing to those who will but humble themselves before Him.  His sovereign pity does not, then, call His love into question, but rather proves it in glorious abundance!


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