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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

The Tender Compassion of God and the True Progress of Humanity

True human progress has nothing to do with the indulgence of social fury and rage. To live insulated by one's own political ideology, to see the world only through some social or psychological program, this is to be cut off from the real drama of humanity unfolding in the world. This real drama progresses with the warmth and light of Divine Tenderness in which humble prayer delights but rage cannot feel or glimpse. Any progress that draws from fury, however, imposes a burden that no one was ever meant to bear. Caught in the false promise of rage as a means of progress, some justify vilifying our neighbor. Some vilify race or ethnicity or skin color. Some vilify foreigners and immigrants. Others vilify public servants and police. Still others vilify their parent or spouse or child (even when not yet born). Yet the only progress that vilification advances is driven by pain and leads to more pain. Indeed, more we blame and judge our neighbor, the more bitter and resentful we become. Indulging in this kind of social rage presumes that my neighbor is the problem. As long as the obstacle or threat to my happiness is something outside of myself, something that I have depersonalized, I never have to deal with my own self-torment. When we vilify our neighbor, this act of spiritual violence may seem to offer relief, but constitutes at best only a momentary release of frustration. The flood of hostility and alienation remains boiling damned behind the gates of my self-made hell. We were not created for this. To be imprisoned in self-torment, this is to sacrifice everything for the work of our hands while losing the freedom to offer the work of our hands to God. Consumed with making a name for ourselves, we find ourselves no longer under the Name of God. Exhausted amassing wealth and comforts, we are too tired to render thanks to the Giver of all Good Gifts. Grasping for social and cultural power, we will not allow ourselves to be grasped by the One whose power sustains our existence. We spend ourselves on things that are not enough for our happiness, and have nothing left to offer the One who has given us everything. Yet without Him, we can never recognize the neighbor who He has entrusted to us. God in his tender compassion fashioned our hearts to progress to true freedom not by vilification but by love. When I judge my neighbor, I might think that vilifying them is advancing my cause, but in reality, I am denying myself a God-given opportunity for my own progress towards human maturity. My failure to progress holds back the progress of everyone. The other person before whom the Lord sets me is the pathway to my own integrity and the integrity of all. Before my neighbor, this progress is in the scope, depth and intensity of love—only love relieves the pain and frees us from self-torment. The pathway for this kind of human progress is always by way of the heart of my neighbor through listening and generous service, and into the heart of God through humble prayer and vulnerability to His Will. When we let ourselves be loved by God, He becomes Himself our progress. If peace in our hearts and in our communities seems eclipsed by the fury and rage of the day, it is because we have allowed things too small to have absolute claim over our existence. We have not been vigilant about the dignity of our neighbor or the glory of God because we have been distracted by the things we have and the things we do not have. The more we cling to such small things, the more we are enslaved to them and the less free we are to pray and to love. Progress toward peace begins with the recognition that love rebuilds what we have destroyed, with the humility to beg God for this love, and with the neighbor to whom He sends us today.

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