Thursday, September 8, 2011

When Compassion Hurts

Welcome to the Wooded Path. Each week, I write a little something about compassion. Today I want to talk to you about radical compassion.

Radical compassion requires a steely commitment to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus taught that following him requires denying yourself. In the case of radical compassion (or living by God's values for that matter), this is true. It requires denying the desire to be liked, loved, to have the approval of others, and to be willing to let go of comfort, reputation, and standing in the community. Whoa! What? Isn’t compassion a good thing? Doesn’t compassion make you more likable, lovable, and respectable? The truth is – not always. There are times when compassion is entirely unpopular. Why? Because radical compassion goes against the grain of human nature.

When I say “radical compassion” I’m talking about divine compassion – the compassion of Christ. His compassion knocked his culture on its head. He demonstrated compassion for sinners, women, outcasts, and those who weren’t Jewish. The religious leaders didn’t get it. They had always believed that God’s favor was reserved for those who were “righteous” and met the requirements of the law. They persecuted Jesus for putting people above the law and healing a crippled woman on the Sabbath. They called him “Satan” for freeing a man who was incapacitated by demons. They were filled with jealousy when he raised Lazarus from the dead. They asked, “Don’t you know who this woman is?” when he forgave an adulterous woman. Jesus revealed God’s heart to the world. The religious leaders hated him for it, persecuted him for it, and loaded his compassionate acts into the arsenal they would use to bring him down.

"I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. Romans 9:12

Again - there are times when being compassionate can be very unpopular. We experienced this truth when a close friend of ours was arrested for crimes that severely damaged numerous people – young and old. His crime was very public and surrounding communities rose up against him. Friends and peers abandoned him. God drew us to this man and compelled us to walk beside him as he dealt with his wrongdoings, his sinful nature, the legal process, and the consequences he had earned. We asked some tough questions and engaged in long conversations with him. As we did, we immediately saw what God saw – the intense agony of his regret – a regret that almost consumed him. 

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9

Our hearts also ached for the victims and for our friend's family. There was so much pain all around. When we had the opportunity to be in the presence of any of them, we loved on them as best we could. What we learned in the process is that compassion does not take sides and it does not condone another person's actions. 

"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently." Galations 6:1

Unknown to us, our affiliation with our friend became a point of public gossip on internet blogs and in the community we live in. There were a lot of hurting people and our compassion was very unpopular. We were persecuted for it, hated for it, and shunned for it (by some). It was even said that we were on "Satan’s team" and deserved the same punishment our friend received.

To practice radical compassion, my husband and I had to:

      1)      Take courage
2)      Deny ourselves
3)      Depend on God
4)      Abandon ourselves completely to Christ so he could
      give us his heart and demonstrate his compassion  
      through us. 

Radical (divine) compassion can bring hurt to the person practicing it, but there's an aching world out there that desperately needs it to be practiced. Our job as Christians is to make God known and to prepare the world for the return of Christ. It's important for us to remember the compassion he has shown us, to be obedient to Him, and to reflect his heart as accurately as we can. He deserves it. 

Warming the World Together . . .