“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 7:12
It has been said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ.” This statement has often been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. The truthfulness of this statement is easily discerned. One need only spend a short length of time in the Christian church in order to spot the differences between Jesus and the believers who fill the pews.
One may even take a look at their own life, compare it with that of the life of Jesus, and spot the painfully distinct sharp contrast. I by no means free myself from this possibility. We must acknowledge the reality that as sinful human beings we have all fallen far from the mark of Christ-likeness, and that none of us may achieve such a state in our own human power. Neither do I myself claim to have reached this state. Instead it is my hope to engage in open warfare with a specific problem which has reared it’s ugly head inside the churches of today, and exhort you to be a light within your own church.
In view of this, it is prudent to point to one particular aspect of the character of Christ. There is a point in Scripture, particularly in the book of Luke, which is a most forcible illustration of the trait in question. It reads, “Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much of the people of the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.” – Luke 17:13-15.
These passages from Scripture describe a woman who was a widow, and who had lost her only son. Her dead son is described as being carried out of the gate of the city, this being the most likely conclusion from the position which Jesus is standing during all of this. Upon spotting the woman and her dead son he ‘had compassion on her’ and said ‘weep not’ right before performing a resurrection. There are a few instances such as this in Scripture where Jesus is moved with compassion at some one’s misfortune, and then he steps in to resolve the issue which caused it.
The keyword to focus on in this particular case is ‘compassion.’ What exactly is compassion? Jesus’ actions in all of these stories give us a great deal of clues as to the meaning of this mysterious word. It is quite clearly linked with caring about the misfortunes of others, as can be shown by the resurrection of this woman’s dead son. One might even go so far as to suggest that Jesus’ words ‘weep not’ indicate that compassion moves a person to speak a word of comfort. Given these obvious examples from Scripture, we cannot be far from the correct track.
What is the meaning of this word in common usage? An internet dictionary defines the word as such:
[kuh m-pash-uh n]
a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
At this stage, some Christians may protest and even argue that words in the dictionary hold different meanings than that which is used in Scripture. However, if we take a look at Christ’s actions in comparison with the definition given, we can see clearly that the internet dictionary is giving a pin-point accurate description of everything Jesus did and said in this particular story. As if that were not enough, the word used for “Compassion” in the text is defined by Strong’s as:
Middle voice from G4698; to have the bowels yearn, that is, (figuratively) feel sympathy, to pity: – have (be moved with) compassion.
With all of the information matching up, there can be no doubt as to the meaning of this word. We are dealing with a character trait which leads to sympathizing with another in their misfortunes and attempting to alleviate their suffering. It is a sad statement I make that this particular trait is missing from the churches of Christianity. While it is not as though every single Christian on the face of planet earth is lacking compassion, one can discern with ease the fact that many Christians do not act like this.
I myself have painfully run into this shocking discovery. I have had to experience the difficulty in attempting to get some one to pray with me over intense emotional battles, only to find myself repulsed with the excuse of “you are dwelling on yourself!” I have heard the horrific responses pour forth from unsympathetic lips desperate for any excuse to selfishly avoid speaking a word of comfort and cheer. And at the same time I would note that those who are following the light found in Scripture on this subject have been difficult to tear-up around without the majority of them surrounding me in an attempt to figure out what is wrong and aid me through the problem. One could hardly camouflage their sorrow around such persons.
The reality of it is, there really is no excuse for unsympathetic behavior on the part of the Christian. In the book of Peter we find a straight forward command, admonishing all to manifest compassion one to another and to be unified. The text reads, “Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren; be pitiful, be courteous.” – 1 Peter 3:8. Strong’s definitions for two of the words used can be found below. Note that “pitiful” is defined as “well compassioned, that is, sympathetic.” The other definition also stands out as an obvious reference to sympathy.
From G4841; having a fellow feeling (sympathetic), that is, (by implication) mutually commiserative: – having compassion one of another
From G2095 and G4698; well compassioned, that is, sympathetic: – pitiful, tender-hearted.
If we pay close attention to the words, we are to have “compassion one of another.” This statement describes a two-way street. There is no room here for individuals to excuse themselves from manifesting compassion on the grounds that the person did not give it to them. Everyone involved is to manifest the trait. We are admonished also to be pitiful. This would logically mean that such a trait becomes simply how or who we are. Many of these same principles are found in the book of Matthew, when Christ sets forth something many of us know as the ‘golden rule.’
“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” – Matthew 7:12
Whatever we would like done to us is to be done to others. This is the principle set forth by Christ, and this is ultimately what is needed in the lives of Christians. A reality not often realized is that these principles are more far-reaching than many give them credit for. These words of Christ should ultimately shape the words that you as a Christian speak to others, especially when you are confronted with a particular individual who is struggling with sorrow. Therefore there is an ultimate reality that there are certain things that you simply should not say to somebody who is dealing with a serious amount of heartache. Below I have produced a series of examples of common responses which are stereotypes of the wrong things people can often say to each other during a time of sorrow.
You are dwelling on yourself.
God has ordained your pain.
What do you want me to do about it!?
You have brought this on yourself.
You’re throwing a pity party…
You are choosing your own pain!
You need to just move on!
The world doesn’t owe you anything…
Time heals all wounds…
What do all of these responses have in common? With the exception of the last final response, they’re all really quite callous. Three of them are aimed at placing the blame for the individual’s emotional problems on the individual who is suffering. They do this either by implying that the suffering has come about through the person literally bringing it upon them self or through claiming the individual is choosing their pain. One response, by asking the horrid question of “What do you want me to do about it” is obviously indicating that the person probably doesn’t care.
The claims that the person is “throwing a pity party” and that the “world doesn’t owe them anything” both are designed as attacks, aimed at putting the person down for their suffering. The pity party statement also aligns rather nicely with the claim that they “need to just move on”, as both carry an underlying suggestion that the individual’s suffering is either not that big of a deal or that they are repeatedly dwelling on the issue unnecessarily. One of them carries the suggestion that the person is just trying to soak up sympathy from people as a form of attention seeking.
The statement of “God has ordained your pain” is especially disgusting. This makes God out to be a fiend who providentially arranges for the awful things to happen to you as some kind of a grand master plan of making you suffer. It is usually found among a class of Christians who hold to the idea that God arranges for even the horrible things to happen to us. This should never be uttered from the mouth of a Christian, especially in the presence of those who are dealing with serious emotional problems. Below there is a series of Scriptures which destroy this kind of theology.
“The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.” – Psalm 145:8-9
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” – James 1:17
“And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” – 1 John 4:16
The idea that God arranges our suffering is destroyed by the fact that the Bible describes him as loving the world, and defines him as love. Ordaining the painful experiences of your life is contrary to love, as this suggests that God wants to hurt you. You cannot desire to hurt some one that you love, as this suggests by default that you do not really love them. Additionally the suggestion that “Every good and every perfect gift is from above” comes with the question attached of, “where is the statement that every evil thing is from above?” I myself have never been able to locate one. In all reality, it is the good things that come from the Father and not the evil things in life. Questions arise in one’s mind as to exactly how God could be good to all and full of compassion, and yet turn around and scheme out painful things to happen to his people. Such an act is of course contrary all compassion and goodness.
The theological problems inherent in this kind of thinking aside, the response is an indisputably awful thing to say to some one who is struggling emotionally. A friend of mine once shared with me that he met a woman who had walked away from Christianity because something horrible had happened to her, and she had received similar responses. She had been told God was “testing her”. This ended her having anything to do with Christianity, and is a perfect example of why Christians should watch what they say to some one who is struggling.
The final statement is not as callous as the rest of the responses. It is however not the most helpful reply. The statement of “Time heals all wounds” is a generic phrase which I have aimed at covering responses which are usually something to the effect of, “time will heal it. It will get better with time. Time will make everything all better.” This is what is known as a platitude, which is a meaningless trite phrase or cliché aimed at quelling negative emotion such as sorrow. The phrase is usually too overused to add any real solution to the problem and is thus not that helpful. Credit must be given where credit is due, the people who usually use these are trying. They should however consider abandoning clichés and think about crafting their responses around Matthew 7:12. Those who have used these responses should think in terms of, “What would I want to hear if I was in their shoes?”
This question, which is based on the golden rule, should govern every response that the Christian gives to the suffering of others. You do not have to and should not sacrifice truth in order to this, but somebody who is dealing with severe emotional problems should not be given the callous responses listed above. In addition, so far as it can be done without lying to them, they should be told exactly what they want to hear.
If some one chooses to confide in you, your response should be aimed at alleviating their disturbance. If your responses are crafted in this way, than you are on the right track toward encouraging this person. A perfect example would be if some one came to you speaking about a bad breakup, confiding in you over the fact that their heart had been broken. What exactly do you say in this situation?
An effective approach from a Christian perspective would be to remind the person who God is. Texts like the ones quoted above to bring down false theological viewpoints can easily be used to encourage some one in these particular circumstances. The idea that God loves you and that he is full of compassion together imply that he wants to alleviate your sadness, and therefore right away the individual can be pointed to Christ without it sounding like you are attempting to get rid of them. A way in which you might more directly address their suffering is by pointing out that since nothing is impossible with God, he is more than capable of easing their sorrow. You might even consider using texts such as the ones from Psalms below which directly state that God heals your wounds, and is close to you when your heart is broken.
“The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” – Psalm 34:18
“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.”- Psalm 147:3
If you do not know what to say, the beautiful thing is that you may craft your response around Bible verses. The promises of the word are not only to encourage you, but they can be brought to bear upon anyone who is struggling. Prayer is also an option with equal weight. This would accomplish almost the same effect as if you had given some word of encouragement. If you put the two together, and hurl all of the encouraging words that you can think of at the individual, provided they are not platitudes, than you really have an effective and encouraging response.
One must also remember that there is a powerful solution to not knowing what to say. It is found in the book of James, in the first chapter. This passage of Scripture suggests that if we lack wisdom, all we have to do is ask God for it, and he will liberally distribute it to us. This statement from the Bible is so broad that it could be applied to in such a way as to be the solution to this issue. If you don’t know what to say to some one to encourage them, but recognize a Biblical duty to manifest compassion, consider praying over the matter first before ministering to the individual. Ask God for the wisdom to know what to say and do to help alleviate the individual’s sorrow.
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” – James 1:5
“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” – John 15:5
With that said, it is important to remember that it is only through Christ that we may develop compassion. He made this clear when he said, “without me ye can do nothing” and “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” Without a connection with Christ, human beings are more likely to go for the callous response or to attempt to get rid of somebody because they’re annoyed at the idea of helping them. The facts are that it is not natural for you or anyone who is a follower of Christ to act this way, as we as human being are sinful and fallen. It is my hope however that you will seek to live up to this light, and manifest compassion toward all of those around.