A Plea for Empathy

Empathy.  Though violence abounds, empathy is scarce.  Though opinions abound, empathy is rarer still.  Yet, in the midst of this firestorm of a world, the church must become a beacon of hope and empathy.  This increasingly amoral cultural will not offer empathy, indeed they cannot.  Empathy has no place in a world dominated by a “survival of the fittest” mentality and those honest with their world view will admit this.  Our churches then must be bulwarks of this precious human characteristic.  Why then is empathy hard to come by even amongst those who claim the cross of Christ?  Allow me ramble.

Empathy is hindered when we are forced to think in an “us versus them” mentality:

Regardless of your recent tragedy (take your pick, we’ve had plenty) men will be tempted to systematize the situations in an “us versus them” frame.  You are either against the men in blue or you are for police brutality.  You are either for homosexuality or for the mass murder of homosexuals.  Our world loves a good false dichotomy.  Yet, this is simply not true.  We can love justice AND seek mercy.  God has created us as intellectual and emotional beings.  We can and we must weep with those who weep without demonizing the supposed “other side”.   We must feel the pain of the families that have lost husbands, fathers, and brothers.  We must seek to understand what it would be like if we were in that situation.  It matters not whether we speak specifically about the tragedy in Dallas, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, or Orlando our first response must be empathy.  What if it was my brother?  What if suddenly, I would never get to talk and joke with him again?  What if things were left unsaid that should have been said?  What if we were the children that just wanted to curl up with our fathers one more time and feel breathe and life?  What if we realized that regardless of lifestyle, occupation, or skin color we were all made in the image of God?  We cannot empathize if we have previously de-humanized.  We must see the precious Image of God in every living being.  It is not a quality that can be earned or taken away.  Therefore, it is a grievous thing when an Image Bearer loses his or her life.  Brothers, it is not time to “tell it like it is”, it is time to weep and pray.

Empathy is hindered when our thoughts are influenced by inferior sources:

Regardless of how much we assert that we are “independent thinkers” our thoughts are always influenced by something.  We all have hidden presuppositions that are difficult and near impossible to divorce ourselves from.  Therefore, when we frame the recent tragedies in terms of “conservative” and “liberal” we are allowing our minds to be influenced by inferior sources.  The only source that can sustain a consistent and effective worldview is the word of God.  We must be more Christian than we are partisan.   We must feel the weight of human suffering so that we can truly proclaim, “I know a better way!  There is one whose burden is light!”  Yet, many of us will seek instead to line our viewpoints up with which ever national analyst or political pundit that we like the best.  Instead, we must put our faces into the word of God and pour our hearts out in prayer.  May our hearts be sympathetic.

Finally, the source of empathy is the heart of God:

Recently I read Martin Hegel’s fascinating book on the historicity of crucifixion.  He concludes this:

“The earliest Christian message of the crucified messiah demonstrated the ‘solidarity’ of the love of God with the unspeakable suffering of those who were tortured and put to death by human cruelty.”

Crucifixion was reserved for the most hardened criminals.  For insurrectionist, murderers, and slaves.  Though it was common in the early centuries, it was not polite to even mention it in casual conversation.  Yet, Christ came to be crucified.  It was his predetermined form of execution.  He came to be marked among the criminals.  God in his incarnation sought to empathize with the very heart of human suffering.  For the stain of sin has reached its filthy hands to our throats and snatched the very life from us.  But the Master, the ever wise and perfect Master, came in the form of a slave, even taking the death of the cross, in order to restore life to us.  He came not for the self-righteous.  He came for the low.  Therefore, we must be made low in order to enter his kingdom.  Woe to us, if we proclaim the name of Christ, but we do not stoop to help those who are hurting.  Woe to us if we do not practice empathy.

“Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us.

for we have had more than enough contempt.” – Psalm 123:3


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