Review: Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life

Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian LifeMercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life by Cardinal Walter Kasper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One can certainly understand why Pope Francis would comment “This book has done me so much good”. I would hazard a guess that Kasper’s work has much to do with the Pope proclamation of the need for mercy and, indeed, the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Kasper’s exploration of the theme of mercy – from both biblical and theological perspectives – as the very essence of the Christian life is well worth reading for anyone who wants to take the Christian life seriously. We can think we understand what is meant by ‘mercy’ yet Kasper’s work makes it clear to any reader that what we think we mean by ‘mercy’ might not be entirely in keeping the biblical sources.

From the dust cover:

Pain and suffering have been universal human experiences since our beginning. All religions seek to explain the reason for suffering – why it exists, what it means. They ask where we can find the strength to endure. They ask for deliverance from it.

Each day’s events only underscore the essential nature of these questions. The twentieth century saw brutal totalitarian regimes, two world wars, genocide, concentration camps, and gulags resulting in the death of tens of millions. In the twenty-first century, people throughout the world are confronted with ruthless terrorism, outrageous injustice, abused and starving children, millions of displaced people seeking stability, the increasing persecution of Christians, and devastating natural catastrophes. Living in such a world, it is difficult for many to speak of an all-powerful God who is just and merciful. Why does God permit all of this?

In Mercy, the important new book praised by Pope Francis, Cardinal Walter Kasper examines God’s mercy while holding these devastating facts and questions in hand. He looks at empathy and compassion as a starting point for theological reflection on the topic. He continues by considering the following:

– What does it mean to believe in a merciful God?
– How are divine mercy and divine justice related?
– How can we speak of a sympathetic, compassionate God?
– Can undeserved woe and divine mercy be reconciled to each other?

He likewise seeks to address the ethical questions that similarly arise regarding mercy in our own actions, in the practice of the church, in the life of all Christians, and in society as a whole. These considerations of mercy lead to the fundamental questions of theology, Kasper combines theological reflection with spiritual, pastoral, and social considerations on this essential topic at a crucial time.

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