Abundant Grace Distinguished Professor (Theological Studies)
The book The God of Extreme Mercy is the result of more than 20 years of thoughts and research although it only took me a few years to complete the writing. I have been meditating on two questions that have perplexed me for some time. The first question being: What kind of God would allow so much intense sufferings in our world? Just like Ivan Karamazov said resentfully in The Brothers Karamazov when he saw innocent children suffering, “It’s not God that I do not accept, it is this world of God’s, created by God, that I do not accept and cannot agree to accept.” This question has been with me for many years. The second question is about the doctrine of the Trinity. God is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, yet He is the one and only God. How can three be in one and one be in three? No matter how much I have tried to explain this doctrine to anyone all these years, I have never been entirely happy with my explanation. I took on the challenge to answer these two questions by writing this book. And I have decided to deal with the question of suffering before turning to the doctrine of the Trinity.
In general, very few books about the triune God start with the topic of suffering and try to explain suffering with the doctrine of the Trinity. Taking this approach had its risk, but it did give me a breakthrough, enlightening me that our God is a God of extreme mercy. Yes, we can only comprehend the mercy of God by describing it as “extreme” because the mercy and kindness that God has shown us are beyond our understanding even by our own standard. If we give it some serious thought, it is impossible for us not to ask: “If God is everything, then the existence of any substance cannot be outside of God. So isn’t the existence of the world just a reflection of the inner self of God?” If God has to truly give us a genuine existence other than one that is simply a refracted fragment of His very self, He will need to make room for us within Himself, room that He allows His creatures to be truly themselves, a space in which He vouchsafes His creatures true freedom. That means He allows Himself the freedom to graciously relinquish His absolute self-possessiveness, and lay down what belongs to Himself as His absolute sovereignty and power to intervene and control at will the space that He has set aside. Hence, the act of creation is already an act of self-sacrifice. Because of this sacrificial love, God wills not to arbitrarily intervene in the space that He has given us so that authentic freedom can be realized. With genuine freedom, human persons bear full responsibility to their action. Suffering is entirely the consequence of human actions out of a freedom that centered on the self, forgetting that genuine freedom is freedom to transcend oneself, to realize oneself in covenantal love. Freedom comes out of God’s covenantal love and is bounded by nothing other than covenantal love. Freedom wrongly exercised distorts human nature and drives human beings onto the path of disintegration and self-destruction, and suffering comes in the process of disintegration and self-destruction.
If we have difficulty comprehending the mystery of the Trinity, it is not because the truth is totally incomprehensible, but because we have been holding a truncated worldview which distorts our perception of reality. If we would make a paradigm shift of worldview, our minds will be enlightened to see the truth. Once we change our way we perceive reality, we would be liberated to understand the Triunity of God. We have been persuaded uncritically by “phenomenological physics” since Aristotle all the way to Newton to see the world as a collection of isolated individual objects, completely self-subsistent and absolutely independent, having no relation with any other objects other than spatial relations. They move unceasingly, each by itself alongside all others in its inertial path. Russian philosopher of culture A. Th. Losev gives us his most insightful illustration of such an individualistic world view by guiding us through the pantheon of Greek sculptures, showing us how Greek culture has been completely captured by such individualism. ‘Against a dark background, as a result of an interplay of light and shadow, there stands out a blind, colorless, cold marble and divinely beautiful, proud and majestic body, a statue. And the world is such a statue… … There is no personality, no eyes, no spiritual individuality. There is a “something,” but not a “someone,” an individualized “it”… … There is no one at all. There are bodies, and there are ideas.’
The world according to modern physics is entirely different. Electromagnetic phenomena reveal to us a very different world, an interactive and inter-permeable world full of mutual participations. An object is a field of energy, and will continuously interact and inter-permeate with other objects (fields of energy), yet still retaining its own uniqueness. If we use such a worldview to comprehend the Trinity, it will be quite comprehensible how the Father can indwell in the Son, be one with the Son but still retain the uniqueness of the Father. The mutual indwelling of the Son and the Father is the same. It is only then that we can fully understand how revolutionary the concept of “perichoresis” or “mutual interpenetration” proposed by Early Church Fathers is. However, the revolution did not get to bear any fruit simply because the grip of individualism on the mind of the people then was so strong. The Trinity thus appeared totally incomprehensible to them. Another enlightening point is that the term “perichoresis’ incorporates the concept of creating space. This means that the mutual indwelling of the Father and the Son incorporates the concept that the Father creates a space within Himself for the Son, and the Son similarly creates a space within Himself for the Father so that the Father can indwell in Him. This should make it easier for us to understand how God has decided to give space for a world to exist within Him and yet retain its own uniqueness. What a mystery this is! This mystery can only call for our utmost thanksgiving and praise: An amazing mystery! Our God is really an extremely amazing God.