A View on Empathy
By Sarah Onderdonk
empathy (noun): 1. Identification with and understanding of another's situation, feelings, and motives. The American Heritage Dictionary
What are the descriptors we typically use to describe Jesus? We might say He is gracious… merciful… compassionate… pure… holy… bold. The list could go on, of course. Having just explored an incredibly revealing verse in Hebrews, another word comes to mind. Jesus is empathetic.
"For since He himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are tempted." Hebrews 2:18 (Net Bible)
"He," of course, refers to the incarnate Jesus Christ, who resisted the temptations of Satan, most vividly described for us in the wilderness account (Luke 4). Though Jesus never had the experience of committing personal sin, He had direct exposure as a man to the demonic tugs and whispering that can lead to sin. Thus, Jesus acquired empathy.
As we are called in the Christian walk to model our hearts and actions after Jesus Christ, and we pray and think about what it means to be more holy and loving and merciful and just, etc., I believe we are likewise called to be more empathetic.
How does an ordinary man or woman acquire empathy? From experience. What kinds of experience? All kinds of experience. Even our sins.
I know a lot of Christians who are haunted by "guilt ghosts." Ashamed of past missteps and misdeeds and unable to move forward with confidence and agility. Satan loves and perhaps carefully works at crafting this mental rut. Because guilty Christians have less impact for God. The shame holds them back like a car downshifted into low gear.
When Christ sacrificed His body for our sins, He paid the price in full for every, single one of your sins. What you have thought and done in the past… what you are thinking and doing right now… and what you will think and do in the future. Your sins are forgiven. (Hebrews 10: 10-18)
Still, God loves a contrite heart. So, we are to confess our sins to God in prayer as we abide in a deepening and maturing relationship with Him. (1 John 1:1-10) This is not for His edification; He knew what you were going to do before you even thought about it. But He cares about your spiritual walk and wants you to have a growing awareness of what constitutes Christ-like thoughts and behaviors.
But back to this word "empathy…" I would challenge you today to reflect upon your own personal sufferings… those beyond your control and those that have stemmed from sin. What valuable lesson have you learned? And who can be helped by your experience?
Question: Who can you empathize with? Who, then, can you serve?