Empathy-a Tiny Virtue to Develop

tiny-virtues-empathy“You don’t know what it’s like because you’re not black,” he chided me angrily. I suggested to him that I could, however, empathize with the pain of discrimination because I have experienced it as a woman. Same sin, different target, I explained. He wasn’t buying it. Empathy is one of the Tiny Virtues for Exemplary Christian Living and it refers to the ability to connect personally with the issue at hand.

We are not born with empathy. We develop it as one of those exemplary heart virtues that we’ve been seeing under the microscope.

Empathy differs from sympathy in a heart location sense. Empathy is being present in the story—in the same pit– as if it were happening to you. Sympathy is looking down from the rim of the pit and having feelings about the pit and the people stuck in it.

Remember the 33 coal miners who were rescued in Chile?

Empathy brought them out. Sympathy was watching it on TV and being captivated by it. But empathy does the miraculous and this article highlights some things you may not know about the efforts to free them.

There’s a great story in the Bible that exemplifies this virtue called empathy and its connection to rescue.

Mark 2:1 A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” … 13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. 15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the “sinners” and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” 17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The four men who carried the paralytic empathized with his plight. As true friends, they lowered him through the roof in order for him to be healed by Jesus. But in an interesting sense, the passage continues.  It’s connected to what follows with the teachers of the law being disgusted that Jesus would fraternize with people they viewed as beneath them. The Pharisees might have sympathized with the plight of sinners and looked to the Law for ways of dealing with them, but Jesus—the Son of God—came down. Into our pit. He ate with sinners. He called them to Himself. He empathized with our plight as sinners though He never ever sinned. Not even once.  That is how He rescued us.

Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits–who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit. (Psalm 103:2-4)

Ponder today: how to develop empathy

Bible characters of the day: the friends of the paralytic

Categories Articles and Devotionals, Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on September 13, 2016

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