World Scripture, A Comparative Anthology Of Sacred Texts

Editor, Andrew Wilson


God's Grief

In religious traditions which revere a personal God, the fall and degradation of human beings is often recognized to cause God sorrow. Particularly where God is known as the divine Parent and human beings as His children, the heart of God must feel great sadness over the children's bondage, degradation, and rebellion. In Judaism, and in Islam where God is called the Compassionate One, the suffering of God is an integral part of the tradition. In Christianity, the passion of Jesus Christ has always represented the divine grief, but at the same time the biblical witness to God's sadness has often been eclipsed by the Aristotelian conception that God's perfection requires that God be impassible. Recently, however, Christian theologians have begun to reaffirm that God the Father and Creator also suffers. In Mahayana Buddhism, the compassion of Sakyamuni Buddha is regarded as a specific instance of the compassionate heart of the Dharmakaya, or cosmic Buddha that is the Father of all humanity. The suffering heart of God is also a central affirmation in several of the new religions.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of His heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to his heart.

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Genesis 6.5-6

Before He brought on the flood, God Himself kept seven days of mourning, for He was grieved at heart.

Judaism. Midrash, Tanhumma, Shemini 11a

Genesis 6.5-6: This passage introduces the story of the Deluge. It has given rise to numerous reflections on God's sorrow, illustrated by the next two selections.

And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of His people, and He wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying, "How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?" And Enoch said unto the Lord, How is it that you can weep, seeing you are holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?..."

The Lord said unto Enoch, "Behold these your brethren; they are the workmanship of My own hands, and I gave to them their knowledge... and commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose Me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood; and the fire of My indignation is kindled against them; and in My hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them... misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of My hands; therefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?"

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Pearl of Great Price, Moses 7.28-37

Abu Dharr reported God's Messenger as saying, "I see what you do not see and I hear what you do not hear; heaven has groaned, and it has a right to groan."

Islam. Hadith of Ahmad, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah

God's heart was torn asunder and broke with indescribable grief and tears the moment Adam and Eve fell.

Unification Church. Sun Myung Moon, 10-11-59

No one is more patient over injury which he hears than God. Men attribute a son to Him, yet he preserves them and provides for them.

Islam. Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

Christianity. Bible, Matthew 23.37

Rabbi Me'ir said, "When man is sore troubled, the Shechinah says, 'How heavy is my head, how heavy is my arm.' If God suffers so much for the blood of the wicked, how much more for the blood of the righteous."

Judaism. Mishnah, Sanhedrin 6.5

Pearl of Great Price, Moses 7.28-37: This is a conversation between Enoch and God shortly before God sent the Flood upon the earth. Like the previous rabbinic passage, it is a meditation on Genesis 6.5-6. Cf. Moses 7.48-49, p. 319. Sun Myung Moon, 10-11-59: Cf. Sun Myung Moon, 5-1-77, p. 609. Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim: This brings to mind Genesis 3.21, p. 426, when after Adam and Eve fell, God still made garments of skins for them. Matthew 23.37: In these words Jesus lamented over the people who rejected him and refused the great salvation which he offered. On God's longing in general, cf. Yebamot 64a, p. 205. Sanhedrin 6.5: For a Sikh passage intimating the divine burden, see Japuji 16, M.1, p. 138.

"In all their afflictions he was afflicted" (Isaiah 53.9). So God said to Moses, "Do you not notice that I dwell in distress when the Israelites dwell in distress? Know from the place whence I speak with you, from the midst of thorns [the burning bush], it is as if I stand in their distresses."

Judaism. Midrash, Exodus Rabbah

Abuk, mother of Deng, Leave your home in the sky and come to work in our homes, Make our country to become clean like the original home of Deng, Come make our country as one: the country of Akwol Is not as one, either by night or by day, The child called Deng, his face has become sad, The children of Akwol have bewildered their Chief's mind.

African Traditional Religions. Dinka song (Sudan)

My sickness comes from ignorance and the thirst for existence, and it will last as long as do the sicknesses of all living beings. Were all living beings to be free from sickness, I also would not be sick.... As the parents will suffer as long as their only son does not recover from his sickness, just so, the bodhisattva loves all living beings as if each were his only child. He becomes sick when they are sick and is cured when they are cured.

Buddhism. Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 5

My grief is beyond healing, my heart is sick within me. Hark, the cry of the daughter of my people from the length and breadth of the land: "Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?" Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with their foreign idols? "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me. Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of the daughter of my people not been restored?

O that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Jeremiah 8.18-9.1

Dinka Song: Deng is the ancestor of the Dinka people and the chief deity, identified with Divinity as a whole and manifest in the fertilizing rain. Abuk is the first woman, earth, and the female principle. This song may refer to the tradition of the separation of heaven and earth at the origin of humanity; cf. Dinka tradition, p. 432. Holy Teaching of Vimalakirti 5: Vimalakirti, apparently sick in bed, utters words which signify the true spirit of a bodhisattva who commiserates with the suffering of all living beings. Cf. Mahaparinirvana Sutra 470-71, pp. 240f.

In the perilous round of mortality, In continuous, unending misery, Firmly tied to the passions As a yak is to its tail; Smothered by greed and infatuation, Blinded and seeing nothing; Seeking not the Buddha, the Mighty, And the Truth that ends suffering, But deeply sunk in heresy, By suffering seeking riddance of suffering; For the sake of all these creatures, My heart is stirred with great pity.

Buddhism. Lotus Sutra 2

Whatever kind of regret I, God (Tsukihi), may have borne, until now I have overlooked it and kept still patiently....

Never think of this regret as slight! It is the result of the regret which has been accumulated and piled up.

For Me, Tsukihi, all people of the whole world are My children. Although I single-heartedly love them, unaware of this, each and every one of them equally is thinking only of dust.

Think of the regret of God over these dusty minds! It is far beyond expression of My words.

Tenrikyo. Ofudesaki XVII.64-70

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son. The more I called them, the more they went from Me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and burning incense to idols.

Yet it was I that taught Ephraim to walk, I took him up in My arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of compassion, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them.

They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to Me. The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them in their fortresses. My people are bent on turning away from Me; so they are appointed to the yoke, and none shall remove it.

How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! How can I make you like Admah! How can I treat you like Zeboiim! My heart recoils within Me, My compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute My fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come to destroy.

Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Hosea 11.1-9

Jeremiah 8.18-9.1: The prophet Jeremiah, like the bodhisattva in the previous passage, laments heartsick over his people's suffering, ignorance, and unbelief. At the same time, the prophet is speaking the words of God and expressing the divine pathos. Ofudesaki XVII.64-70: In Tenrikyo sin is not endemic in human beings; it is the dust which collects on intrinsically pure minds and which needs to be swept away. See also Ofudesaki VII.109-11, p. 205; XII.43-44, p. 279.

My children,

The Enlightened One, because He saw mankind drowning in the great sea of birth, death and sorrow, and longed to save them, for this was moved to pity.

Because He saw the men of the world straying in false paths, and none to guide them, for this He was moved to pity.

Because He saw that they lay wallowing in the mire of the Five Lusts, in dissolute abandonment, for this He was moved to pity.

Because He saw them still fettered to their wealth, their wives and their children, knowing not how to cast them aside, for this He was moved to pity.

Because He saw them doing evil with hand, heart, and tongue, and many times receiving the bitter fruits of sin, yet ever yielding to their desires, for this He was moved to pity.

Because He saw that they slaked the thirst of the Five Lusts as it were with brackish water, for this He was moved to pity.

Because He saw that though they longed for happiness, they made for themselves no karma of happiness; and though they hated pain, yet willingly made for themselves a karma of pain; and though they coveted the joys of heaven, would not follow His commandments on earth, for this He was moved to pity.

Because He saw them afraid of birth, old age, and death, yet still pursuing the works that lead to birth, old age, and death, for this He was moved to pity.

Because He saw them consumed by the fires of pain and sorrow, yet knowing not where to seek the still waters of samadhi, for this He was moved to pity.

Because He saw them living in an evil time, subjected to tyrannous kings and suffering many ills, yet heedlessly following after pleasure, for this He was moved to pity.

Because He saw them living in a time of wars, killing and wounding one another; and knew that for the riotous hatred that had flourished in their hearts they were doomed to pay an endless retribution, for this He was moved to pity.

Because many born at the time of His incarnation had heard Him preach the Holy Law, yet could not receive it, for this He was moved to pity.

Because some had great riches that they could not bear to give away, for this He was moved to pity.

Because He saw the men of the world ploughing their fields, sowing the seed, trafficking, huckstering, buying, and selling; and at the end winning nothing but bitterness, for this He was moved to pity.

Buddhism. Upasaka Sila Sutra

Hosea 11.9-11: The prophet Hosea uttered these words of divine pathos while prophesying against the corruption of Ephraim, the northern kingdom of Israel. He recalls God's motherly love for Israel as a child, when God brought Israel forth from the land of Egypt and raised her as an infant; compare Deuteronomy 32.10-12, p. 145; Isaiah 1.2-3, p. 456. Admah and Zeboiim were cities destroyed long ago along with Sodom and Gomorrah. Upasaka Sila Sutra: The Enlightened One is the all-pervading cosmic Buddha (Dharmakaya), as well as the historical Sakyamuni. See Lion's Roar of Queen Srimala 5, p. 652. This sutra is found in the Chinese Tripitaka.


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