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God’s preferential care

Todd at Memoria Dei has a helpful post on the notion, put forth in liberation theology, of God’s preferential option for the poor. In conversation with Stephen Pope’s work he argues that the notion of God’s preferential love, he argues must be understood in connection with the concept of care. Here’s a quote:

[Stephen] Pope argues that we must clarify God’s “preferential love” with another concept: care.  Care is the response of love to someone in need. Love necessarily involves care in the face of suffering but it is not reduced to care since love can exist in the absence of need.  Thus, it would be more accurate to speak of God’s “preferential care” or “preferential loving care” towards those in need.  The latter would preserve the fact that the source of the preferential option is love but without seeming to limit the scope of divine love. The parables of the Good Samaritan, the Last Judgment, and Lazarus and the Rich Man all point to God’s preferential care for those in need; and “need” (and thus care) should not be restricted to material poverty as is shown by Jesus’ invitation to the outcasts, women, and tax-collectors.  God’s preferential care extends to all victims and “non-persons” of history. Furthermore, this divine praxis of preferential care is not only grace for those who receive it but also a demand for those who follow Christ.


  1. Brad A. wrote:

    I think the first comment on Todd’s thread is accurate: he (and Pope) tend to take the edge off the Liberationist claim here. Liberation ethics does not argue God loves the poor more – they see the oppressor as just as oppressed and in need of liberation as the marginalized. Rather, tt suggests that when it comes to an examination of structures of injustice, of the very coexistence of extreme wealth and poverty in the same context, that God sides with the poor. This is what Joerg Reiger calls “justice as preference” – a deliberate partisanship with the poor.

    I think the point about “care” here is great – no argument there. But I think it’s not quite an adequate alternative (if that’s what’s being aimed for) to “preferential option.”

    Monday, February 22, 2010 at 6:47 am | Permalink
  2. Theophilus wrote:

    Is it not precisely a description of “preferential option”, rather than an alternative to it?

    Monday, February 22, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink
  3. Brad A. wrote:

    Well, it comes across as a qualification to me. Something with a bit of contrast to the original.

    Monday, February 22, 2010 at 8:32 am | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    I guess I just took it in the way Theophilus suggests, as an explication of the preferential option. It seems to me that the only thing it qualifies is a misunderstanding of the preferential option as saying that God actually loves the poor “more” than other people. The point, as I see it is that because God loves all people equally, he necessarily cares more intensively for the oppressed, thus the “preferential option.”

    Monday, February 22, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink
  5. Chris Grataski wrote:

    I think the preferential option is also helpfully contextualized by an emphasis on God’s action to rectify a broken world. An emphasis on New Creation necessarily sees manufactured scarcity as adversarial to God’s desire and work in Jesus. It should also, I would think, animate a new kind of seeing whereby we discern the people and places in the world that have been cut off from the things that make for life, whether it be material lack or the absence of family or community. And hopefully it would also result in an outgoing love that accompanies those very people and places… suffering with, offering friendship, carrying burdens, etc.

    Monday, February 22, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink
  6. Todd wrote:

    Thanks for the responses to my post. All the language used with the preferential option emphasizes one point or another and gives rise to strong debate. For example, should it be called “preferential”? Gutierrez strongly supports this. Segundo sees the addition of “preferential” as a betrayal of the option. Different contexts call for different language. The context here is conceptual clarification within a general acceptance of the option. Although it does not bring out the conflictual nature of the option well enough (“blessed are…woe to…”), I would argue that “care” or “loving care” gets at the particular form of God’s preferential love: It is love as a response to urgent need and suffering. Thus, the concept of “care” is a helpful addition to our lexicon for understanding the preferential option.

    Monday, February 22, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Permalink
  7. I would add the parable of the prodigal son. This parable could plausibly be interpreted as an example of God’s care-preference for those in need.

    Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

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