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Cod, for instance, cannot literally have compassion or sympathy.

This does not mean that Cod is unsympathetic, if by that we mean Cod is stoical. But words like "sympathetic" and "unsyinpathetic" cannot literally apply to Cod. If we think they do, we begin to turn our appropriate pictures of Cod into idols, mistaking the Cod beyond the universe for one ofthe gods in the universe. To have compassion, McCabe reminds us, means to suffer alongside of. Compassion makes up the gap that exists between people. But because Cod is not a part of the universe, there is no gap between us and Cod. "In our compassion we, in our feeble way, are seeking to be what Cod is all the time: united with and within the life of our friend." Many recent theologians, especially process theologians, have been fond of critiquing "classical theism." They have assertedwrongly, according to McCabethat the Cod of the classical theists is a stoic Cod, impassible and immutable. Because these theologians have believed that we need a Cod who feels our pain, they have rejected the so-called static god of classical theism and opted for a god who is one agent among others, tirelessly at work within the world. According to McCabe, this approach involves an illicit theological move. When the tradition has said that Cod is impassible it has asserted that Cod does not literally suffer; when it has said that Cod is immutable it has asserted that Cod does not literally change. But it is wrong to assume that if Cod does not suffer then Cod must be unsympathetic, or that if Cod does not change then Cod

must be static. Such an analysis applies language too literally, McCabe thinks, and is idolatrous.

O DOES GOD EEEL our pain or not? The fall 2003 issue of my denomination's quarterly journal was devoted to Cod's providence and sovereignty, and it included several essays that presented a process perspective on Cod and evil. These essays tried to reimagine Cod in a way appropriate to our dire situation. They abandoned the allegedly static Cod of Augustine, Aquinas and McCabe and talked instead about a god who suffers with our suffering but who is impotent against evil (constrained as this god is by the metaphysical principles enunciated by Alfred North Whitehead). McCabe reminds us that we do not need to reimagine Cod. We need to remember that classical Christianity gives us a way to talk about Cod's suffering. Cod walked dusty roads, sweat, ate and drank (with sinners), was tortured, and died a brutal death on a cross. This is all true of Cod because it is true ofthe man Jesus. We do not need to imagine a Cod who feels our pain because Cod really did feel it. The dual emphasis on Cod's utter inaccessibility to our language and on the literal suffering of Cod in the person of Jesus marks almost eveiy page of McCabe's essays. The theological point is not easy to grasp, but it is the whole point ofthe incarnation: Part of the doctrine of die incarnation is precisely tliat Jesus wtxs and is a human person; die other part is that this same identical person was and is divine. The adjectives

McCabe on repentance
We are quite naturally prone to say that Cod is angry witli us when we sin. And, of course, tlie Bible speaks frequendy ofthe wrath of Cod^wrath especially against diose who oppress and exploit his paiticular friends: the poor and unprotected, the widow and the orphan. And tliis is a perfectly good way of talking. But the language is figurative. It makes an image of Cod. There is nothing wrong witli such imagery as long as we do not let it confuse us into tliinking that it represents the last word on Cod. As St. Thomas Aquinas tells u s . . . , we need a lot of images for Cod. In particular, we need conflicting, incompatible and grotesque ones. The more images we have, says Thomas, tlie less likely we are to identify them with Cod and the more likely we are to realize that Cod is tlie incomprehensible mystery behind all images. So there is nothing wrong with tliinldng of Cod as angiy about our sin. Yet it would be wrong to think tliat this is the end of tlie matter. We have to set images of Cod's anger beside images of Cod as constantly tolerant and compassionate. We have to set diem beside images of Cod as forgetting our offenses and so on. If we work simply widi idols and images, we are liable to tell a stoiy like diis: first I sin and Cod is angry; then I repent and beg for forgiveness; and, after a while, Cod relents and forgives me and is pleased with me again. And tliis is perfectly in order considered as a story. But it is not the litenil truth. The literal truth is that when God forgives us he doesn't change his mind about us. Out of his unconditional, unchanging, eternal love for us he changes our minds about him. It is Cod's loving gift that we begin to think of repenting for our sin and of asking for his mercy. And that repentance does not earn his forgiveness. It is his forgiveness under another name. The gift, the grace, of contrition just is Cod's forgiveness. The gift of contrition is, for example, the grace we celebrate in the sacrament of penance. If we go to confession, it is not to plead for forgiveness from Cod. It is to thank him for it. The gift of contrition is the gift of recognizing Cod's unswerving love for us. It is the gift of having the confidence to confess our sins, to admit the truth. And if we do that, then, as Jesus told us, the truth will set us free (cf. John 8:32) {God, Christ and Us).


CHRISTIAN CENTURY January 25, 2005