All Saints Weekly Devotional

Volume 1 Number 32

September 13, 2012

Empathy

From Pastor Bordwine

 

 

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

(Romans 12:15)

The apostle Paul addresses the concept of empathy on several occasions. For example in Second Corinthians 1, he relates how God had comforted him in his afflictions so that he might be able to extend comfort to others when they experienced affliction. The idea is that Paul would have a genuine empathy for anyone having to endure hardship. In the context of his remarks, Paul is thinking of those who would face persecution for the sake of the gospel. There are other passages, however, in which Paul appears to be speaking in a broader fashion.

In Romans 12, the apostle covers a number of issues and obligations for the edification of believers. Many of Paul’s commands in this chapter are easily applicable to life in general. One of the more interesting exhortations is the one quoted above: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” In essence, Paul teaches that we should take note of and respond to the various experiences of those around us.

When someone is joyful, it is easy for us to join in the celebration and experience a measure of gladness ourselves. Paul does not stop with empathetic joy, however. He also includes our duty to “weep with those who weep.” When someone experiences a tragedy or is passing through some circumstance that causes them much distress, it is possible for us to sympathize with that person. While we cannot experience the exact measure of their grief, we can still comfort them, pray for them, and sometimes do something to lessen the burden of grief.

On Tuesday, Christopher Stevens, our country’s ambassador to Libya, was murdered during a well-planned attack by Islamists. I did not know Mr. Stevens, but I certainly was moved by the report of what happened to him and several others who were filling roles designed to help liberate the very people who carried out this attack. To get to the point, let me say that I immediately felt great empathy for the friends and family of these Americans. The only thing that I could do, in terms of a response, was pray for those who had lost loved ones. And so I did ask God to comfort them and give them peace in their time of mourning.

As noted, praying was the only response I could give, but that doesn’t mean my reaction was insignificant. On the contrary, I think God is pleased any time His people are touched by the suffering of others in this world. I think He is also pleased when we call upon Him to bring relief to those who are grieving. Most of us, at some point in our lives, have been on the receiving end of empathy. We have had people in our lives who came alongside us during a time of suffering and we were greatly comforted by this act and we definitely cherished their promises of intercession.

Empathy is, I believe, a godlike characteristic. This fact is established by the ministry of our Savior. Speaking of Christ, the writer of Hebrews states: “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.”(Heb. 2:18) The temptation of Jesus was genuine and, as we know, He maintained fidelity to the will and word of His Father. He does understand, therefore, the nature of temptation and is able to serve us as our empathetic high priest. As I said, responding to the troubles of others with words of comfort or prayer amounts to the imitation of Christ in His relationship with us.

The family of Christopher Stevens is experiencing deep and prolonged agony; the same is true for the families of the others who were killed. It is unlikely that any of us have a personal connection to these families, but we can still be of help to them through our prayers in which we seek the grace of God so that they may be blessed and He may be glorified. There are a multitude of issues and questions related to this attack on our embassy, but our primary obligation, I would maintain, is what I just described. Remembering how you were helped by the empathy shown to you in the past, I would urge you to pray for the friends and families just mentioned.

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