Lesson 11: Love in a Theology of the Cross (Compassion)

Saving lives from rubble Lupe has prompted me to make clear that I do not mean to advocate 16th century concepts. When I refer to Martin Luther’s theology of the cross helping me understand the problems of the contemporary church, I don’t mean much more than the need to consider the implications of Jesus’ crucifixion when talking about Christian issues.

For example, there is a need to clearly define “Christian love” these days. Last week, when I advocated supporting groups that base our relationship with God on love rather than making a deal, many questioned if my contrast was really helpful. They argued both sides think they act in love. The word has lost so much meaning that people can imagine they are following Christ while engaging in extremely unloving activities.

One way to gain some clarity is to remember any definition of Christian love must be able to take into account Jesus’ execution. Many of Jesus’ statements about love were linked to giving his life or your life for another person. Paul explains the crucifixion as an expression of God’s love. That leads me to define the Christian variety of love as compassion, forgiveness, and grace. Let me take these one at a time.

Compassion, by definition, involves sharing in another person’s suffering. When we proclaim that Jesus loves us or that in Jesus God loves us, we infer that they have compassion for us and, therefore, share our sufferings. Jesus’ Passion describes his suffering at the hands of violent people, but Christians believe it also involves his sharing our pain. We speak of him dying for us or with us. We attempt to explain this in a variety of ways that are all meant to maintain his suffering alleviates our pain.

We also believe the crucifixion inspires us to act in compassion towards other people. Any idea that this is some affectionate feeling casually expressed is quickly demolished when hearing the suffering of this righteous man crying out in agony, abandoned by his enemies, friends, and God. Jesus’ Passion forces us to be brutally honest about reality. We cannot hear the story without acknowledging that there is a great deal of pain and death, injustice and oppression in this world.

Christian love, then, is a lot more than tolerance for other people’s views and actions. It is not an arrangement that necessarily is of mutual benefit for both parties. Nor is it a formula for success, at least not success as this world defines it.

At its best, Christian love is ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for another. As Jesus execution reminds us, this might mean sharing the suffering of those who stand for truth against religious and political authorities. It surely means giving up something to care for those in need.

Most challenging, Christian compassion is not limited to those who agree with us. Christ calls for loving even our enemies. We can look at that next week when I’ll examine forgiveness as transformation.

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