We need men of compassion, not merely empathy.
Empathy is good to have, but it becomes a form of vanity when not fulfilled in the substantive work of compassion.
I may feel the weight of every trouble and pain in this world, and be awakened to the horror of sin and the state of God’s people, and presumptuously condemn my brother for seeming in my eyes to be insensitive to it; and if God is merciful, then perhaps that same brother will have compassion upon my wretched soul, and not utterly abandon me for my insufferable blindness, that perhaps I might see my own error. For in the feelings of empathy we may presume to have great discernment; but by the grounded hand of compassion this vanity is shattered, and true discernment is built through the sharpening of iron.
Longsuffering is the mystery of compassion. I may feel all the sorrow of righteous Job, and sense the injustice against me as Job did against the ill counsel of his friends; yet still, it is the compassion of the Almighty which comes to me and says, “Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou ME.” For although his friends condemned him unjustly, Job then reactively argued to justify himself. It was the Lord’s steep rebuke of this sinful attitude which restored Job to offer a sacrifice on behalf of his friends. Those who vindicate themselves cannot practice compassion.
For what good is it to experience the privilege of feeling the burdens of the Lord, only to cast them heavily upon another without pity? The Lord shares His burdens not for us to sanctimoniously pontificate about them that we may be noticed by heaven for our mere sensitivity in spiritual things, as if that itself were the pinnacle of consecration; but rather for us to soberly act upon it before the Lord, in the discretion of the true compassion of a grown man who seeks no recognition even from his brothers.
Anyone who takes this to be a diminishment of the weight and importance of feeling God’s sense of things, is simply immature in this regard. For this is not a diminishment of that vital intercessory role, but rather an exhortation to properly fulfill it. Neither is this a rail against the existence of spiritual empathy’s emotional expression within us, but rather an exhortation that we hold it in a sound presence of mind: acting upon that which is from God, and beating into submission that which arises from the lusts and pride of life.
Godly compassion is the tangible fulfillment of spiritual empathy through sober action on behalf of another’s wellbeing – especially spiritual wellbeing. Therefore it will give mercy where none would have expected, and exhort where few would have desired or thought necessary. It needs make little sense to anyone except those walking in its obedience. It may appear exeedingly soft to the hardhearted and overly stoic to the emotionally incontinent. Yet it is not simply a middle-ground, but is truly an altogether higher expression of God’s love in the willingly wounded hands of Jesus. The compassion of Christ is inextricably tied to His longsuffering with we who pierced Him.
“And Jesus, moved with compassion,
put forth His hand…”
Bleed as much as you cry, or stop crying.