On Empathy

We have all lost things in the last several months; some losses are far greater than others. But surely we can all relate, we can all “understand and share the feelings” (defining empathy) of others in this time. On some level, at least?

I know everyone is tired of this pandemic. I know you are itching to get out of your house, for your kids to go back to school, for more businesses to open, for life to resume to as “normal” as possible in the wake of such a global catastrophe. I know it’s felt like a long stretch.

To be frank, I am not concerned with your particular opinion about the seriousness of COVID-19, or how countries ought to be handling it, or if face masks are effective. I am not saying these things should not be discussed, or that your opinions don’t matter, but this is what I am saying:

Where is the empathy? Where is the Christ-likeness?

Christians, if you call yourself one, this means your life has been radically changed by the love of Jesus. You’ve recognized the depth of your sin, and the depth of your need for redemption. You have encountered Jesus and his overwhelming love and mercy at some point in your life, and have intellectually and emotionally understood that his sacrifice on the cross has cancelled your debt of sin against God, has removed your shame, and has conquered fear, even fear of death. Praise God!

Having been changed by his love, we are then compelled to live our lives marked by the same love that motivated Jesus – God’s own love. Is this what our lives are about? When others witness our lives, are they witnessing Jesus’ love embodied? When they read our Facebook pages or scroll our Instagram accounts, are they struck by our gentle love and kind understanding?

Regardless of at what rate people have died, or what they have died from, people have died. Some, many, have lost loved ones. Regardless of whether it was the right decision for governments to lockdown, or recommend people to stay home, people have lost their jobs. Some, many, are struggling financially. Some, many, don’t even have enough food to eat. Regardless of your particular opinion of these current events, people have lost freedoms.

Looking at Jesus, I’m struck by his example of gentle love and kind understanding, of empathy.

“I have compassion on the crowd because… they have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way” (Matthew 15:32). Jesus knew hunger, as he ate nothing for forty days.

When the scribes and the Pharisees brought Jesus an adulterous woman, he instructed “him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” When none did, Jesus looked at her and said, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?… Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more” (from John 8:1-11). Jesus knew condemnation, as he bore it billion-fold on our behalf.

When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, both sisters Mary and Martha asked him why he allowed him to die. Jesus speaks to Martha, confronts her with the truth that “I am the resurrection and the life.” When Mary asks the same question, Jesus weeps. He who is going to, in a matter of minutes, command life back into his dead friend, is deeply broken and hurting (from John 11). Jesus knew grief, as he was a “man of sorrows” (Is. 53:3) and bore it for us on the cross.

And as if his ministry to this point was not sufficient enough, Jesus walked in steady obedience to his Father to the cross, through scorn and shame, through torture and mocking, to death. Jesus knew death, and bore it willingly for us.

Jesus lived a fully human life, filled with every sort of human experience, and from it, ministered perfectly to those around him based upon their spiritual needs. While we cannot minister perfectly like Jesus, we can seek to follow his example in a time of crisis such as we know now. This is how the church can have a mighty impact in these times. This is how we can reflect the love of Jesus to those who don’t know him. This is how we can love each other right now.

Much has been lost. Are we concerned for those who have been experiencing great loss, or are we busy arguing for our opinion on these issues? Are we, as the body of Christ, “rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15)?

Do we have empathy in these times?

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