February 28, 1995
Because strong emotions seem to interfere with sound judgment, some people are afraid their feelings will lead them astray. However, certain emotions are part of important virtues such as compassion. In fact, we are most like God when we are compassionate toward each another.
Jesus felt compassion for the confused and hungry multitudes, so He taught and miraculously fed them. He felt compassion for the widow whose only son was dead, so He raised him to life. Clearly, God’s compassion is an emotion that raises the question: “What can I do to meet this need?” If human problems and an emotional response motivate God, they also ought to motivate people. We are made in His image.
The Bible gives examples of acts of compassion. Most of them have less to do with emotion and more to do with choices and action. For instance, the Old Testament hero, David, and the king’s son, Jonathon, were good friends but Jonathan’s father, King Saul, was certain David wanted his throne. Enraged, he began a massive effort to kill the younger man. Of course David fled for his life.
Saul was crafty and had powerful armies but could not catch David. During this game of cat and mouse, David had several opportunities to kill the King, but in each case, out of respect for God’s established leader, he refused to retaliate.
After Saul and Jonathan were killed during a battle, David became king. As the Bible says, he was a good leader. “...the Lord gave David victory wherever he went . . . and David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people.”
Saul’s descendants were not a threat to his throne—none are on the scene. However, David did something incredible. He called his leaders and asked, “I there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”
It turned out that one person was left, a crippled man. Much to his and everyone else’s surprise, David brought this man under his care on a decision made without first knowing who he was or that he even existed. No obvious need moved him emotionally. This was an act of premeditated compassion, a choice to be kind.
Another example of compassion is the story Jesus told about the Good Samaritan. This man went out of his way to take care of a wounded stranger, likely an Israelite who considered him an enemy. He spent physical and emotional energy, time, and money to ensure the injured man was well treated. He felt sorry for him but also decided to do something.
Compassion for others without helping them is not compassion. Notice this verse: “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”
Sometimes we fail to feel pity toward needy people. Sometimes we are too busy to notice, or our hearts have become immune or hardened, or we are turned inward. Sometimes we do not want to empathize with them because we have been through it ourselves and prefer to avoid reminders. Other times we are moved to tears in pity, but that is as far as it goes. However, being a Christian means being like Christ. Whenever someone is hurting and we hurt with them, our compassion should definitely move us—not only to tears but to take whatever action is necessary to relieve their pain.