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There is another word that goes with compassion and that word is empathy.
You may have heard this word recently in the news, because there was a lot of debate up on Capitol Hill about it.
One online dictionary puts it this way: And, interestingly enough, certain psychiatric disorders, such as “autism, antisocial personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder, have been associated with a lack of ability to empathize (or experience empathy).” While I don’t wish to wade into the political debate, it does appear that empathy is a good thing.
In fact, to be without empathy is to suffer from a mental illness.
Strangely, even though the Bible is full of texts that speak of God’s love and compassion, traditional theology, which has been deeply influenced by Greek philosophy, makes this impossible.
Greek philosophy insisted that emotion was a sign of weakness, and therefore God must be “impassible.” That is, if God is perfect, then God is incapable of change or of feeling.
Another text that speaks to the way we might live out compassion is the parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the Samaritan – a person who was despised by most everyone in Jesus’ audience – offered aid to a man who had been mugged.
If we affirm the principle that Jesus incarnates the word and wisdom of God, then we should affirm that he reveals to us the heart of God, which is full of compassion.
Instead we stopped at what is often known as the briefest Scripture text, “Jesus wept” (KJV).
I had us stop here, because that verse, and the words that precede it underline the centrality of compassion to the ministry of Jesus and the ways of God.
James goes on to say that faith without works is dead– that is, without acts of compassion our faith is meaningless (James -17).
Harvard chaplain Peter Gomes suggests that compassion is both the source and the manifestation of inner strength.