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Center for Action and Contemplation

God’s Compassion and the Prophets 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Sister of St. Joseph Catherine Nerney writes of God’s maternal love and compassion for the world:  

In Exodus 34:6, God proclaims that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. These attributes of God need pondering.  

According to God’s own self-revelation, “God’s very being is determined by rechem, which is mercy, lovingkindness, compassion.” [1] Translations of the Hebrew most carefully connect rechem with the feminine for womb. God’s way of being poured out in the world is womb-love.… 

A womb provides a safe, holding place for life to grow. Let this space, which God provides for all, become in you a sacred spot, an expansive opening in your own heart, where God and you can indwell—you in God and God in you. As a child lives within her mother, and the mother gives over her very life blood for her child, so the God of life, Compassion itself, gives life to our world. 

The Hebrew prophets remind us of God’s boundless compassion: 

Some of the most poignant images of God’s untiring love and faithfulness are captured in the words of the prophets. In Hosea 11, the prophet has God speak to God’s unfaithful people, who insist on turning away. “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?… My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender” [Hosea 11:8]. Instead of the people being cast aside for their evil ways, the subversion takes place in God’s own heart. God’s compassion flares up, and God decides not to execute [God’s] burning wrath. Mercy is victorious over justice in God. Mercy doesn’t trump justice; it transcends it. Mercy is the profound mystery of who God is. “For I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst and I will not come in wrath” (Hosea 11:9). The fundamental characteristic of God, elevating the divine above all humans, is God’s boundless mercy, God’s womb-like love. With gratitude and awe for such a God, the psalmist prays: “For you, O God, are good and forgiving, abounding in merciful love to all who call on you” (Psalm 86:5) and again in Psalm 103:1—“As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for all who fear Him.” And: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in merciful love” (Psalm 103:8; 145:8)….  

God’s relentless care for those who are poor and suffering is the visible expression of our compassionate God, which moved the prophets from the praying stance of the psalms to courageous action on behalf of God’s children in need (Amos, Hosea, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Baruch, and Zechariah, to name just a few). That God’s very life imprints in us that same dynamic rhythm from prayer to action, from contemplation to lives of compassion, reveals the God in whose image we are made. 


[1] Geiko Müller-Fahrenholz, “Turn to the God of Mercy: New Perspectives on Reconciliation and Forgiveness,” The Ecumenical Review 50, no. 2 (April 1998): 197.  

Catherine T. Nerney, The Compassion Connection: Recovering Our Original Oneness (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 8, 9, 9–10, 11.   

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Taylor Wilson, Transfiguration (detail), cyanotype, used with permission. Taylor Wilson, Madonna and Messiah, ink, used with permission. Alma Thomas, The Eclipse, acrylic on canvas, Smithsonian. Click here to enlarge image

The rounded lines of mother and child echo the compassion we express toward others. 

Story from Our Community:  

At 8 I knew I was gay, but like many in my generation, I hid my True Self for 37 years. I came out I at 45, and unfortunately, was alienated from my family. In that period of life, I found the work of Richard Rohr. I have read several books and talked with a Franciscan spiritual director, and I try to read the Daily Meditations each morning. I love feeling included.… Thankfully, my church community and family of choice does offer the compassion I need at this stage of my life. As I grow spiritually, I find myself expanding my compassion for myself and others as part of my journey as a member of the LGBTQ community. I am grateful to keep growing. —Paul W. 

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