Heaven Has No Sorrow That Earth Cannot Feel: The Ethics of Empathy and Ecological Suffering in the Old Testament

Bibliographic information:

Stewart, Alexander Coe. “Heaven Has No Sorrow That Earth Cannot Feel: The Ethics of Empathy and Ecological Suffering in the Old Testament.” Canadian Theological Review 4.2 (2015): 19–34.



All of creation groans with us while waiting for ultimate redemption, writes Paul (Rom 8); but several Old Testament prophets also give voice to the natural world’s suffering due to our social injustice and selfishness. Do we feel the pain of non-human creatures empathetically, leading to repentance and compassion, or are we dismissive of such sentimentalism? This study introduces the emerging field of ecological virtue ethics with attention to emotional dispositions such as empathy, sympathy, and compassion. This has the advantage of approaching environmental issues from a different angle than the usual appeals to duty-based stewardship or pragmatic consequences alone. Mature empathy refuses to settle for a narrow imagination about the pain of other creatures yet also reaches beyond the cute and cuddly with the help of other virtues. The second half of the study outlines a biblical theology of personified ecological suffering in the Old Testament in order to see the kinds of suffering involved, the reasons for suffering, and the biblical responses to such pain. By combining ecological virtue ethics with biblical theology, we can attend to the suffering of creation in the Scriptures and in our present contexts, in order to cultivate empathetic sensitivity that benefits our Christian character and our communities. With ears to hear the pain, we can overcome denial and despair.


Canadian Theological Review (website: http://cata-catr.com/the-canadian-american-theological-review-catr/catr-past-issues/)

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