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Compassion Like Christ for a Divided People

I’m not real sure about this article! I’ve wanted to write something about the racism issue, maybe some thoughts on a biblical response to racism. But who am I to take on this task? And how does one attempt this in a short article? But I still want to try, so consider this as words of admonition to myself, not directly about racism, but more simply about how God wants me to think biblically in my relational interactions. If the shoe fits, we wear it!

I heard a news report on the radio recently. A man had apparently fallen asleep in a dumpster, and lamentably was still there as the garbage truck started to empty the dumpster. The man was injured and taken to the hospital for treatment. My initial mental reaction was, “What a dummy! How could you do something so insane?” And right there, God stopped me in my tracks, and called out to my heart, “David, how can you be so insensitive to the plight of others? Should you not be thinking in a compassionate manner toward this man?”

Compassion in God’s Word

Compassion is at the core of biblical injunctions regarding human relationships, regardless of ethnicity, social status, life preferences, or actual human conduct. The Good Samaritan stretched out his hand of need to the man fallen alongside the road, not pausing for an instant because of ethnic difference. Nor did he judge the man, “How can you be so crazy as to travel this road alone?” He saw a man in need and responded with compassion. Jesus broke all the codes when he talked compassionately to the woman at the well. Jesus showed compassion to the woman with the blood disease. Jesus wept over the plight of Jerusalem. In the Old Testament, one of the traits that the Lord called out to Israel through the prophet Micah was to “do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before the Lord”. Oh, that this would compel us as we act toward others, react to others, and as we think about others. Instead of marginalizing, thinking suspiciously, and mistreating others, God’s call is for us to show compassion.

Jesus broke all the codes when he talked compassionately to the woman at the well.

This attitude must prevail in our homes as we instruct our children. Compassion must direct our interactions with others in the workplace and in the academic environment. This attitude must direct our reactions to the political hotspot in which we are embroiled as a nation. Yes, we will have opinion differences, and the expression of opinions is legitimate. However, our God would call upon us to think, speak, and act with compassion as we interface with others.

Paul the apostle writes to the Romans to “always be prayerful… when God’s children are in need, be the one to help them out”. This is compassion at work. Pray for those going through a calamity, whether they be believers or unbelievers, instead of pushing against them. I think it is fair to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr: feel their pain! Again, neither color nor social class are boundaries recognized by God in the discharge of compassion. Paul wrote to the Colossians that “in your new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile… barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free, but rather Christ is all that matters … therefore clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy”.

Compassion in Practice

So let’s try to apply this. You have some kind of interaction with a person of different ethnicity or social class than yourself. You could be in a fast-food place and someone that appears to be homeless walks in and asks you to buy them a cheeseburger. You could be filling your gas tank at Conoco and someone with a fancier car than yours and a different skin color drives up behind you. Or someone who is an authoritarian figure begins dispensing orders in the workplace to someone of a different ethnic group. You might think suspiciously toward the person, maliciously, arrogantly, or bitterly. This person might bring up a mental image of someone in the news cycle during the past month, and you begin to think negatively about this kind of person. “Let them suffer. Let them be treated as they have treated others. Let them pay for their past wrongdoing.” This kind of thinking happens to us!

And then Jesus speaks to us. He reminds us that He lifts the burdens of those bent beneath their loads. He reminds us that He protects the foreigners living among us, and cares for the orphans and widows (Psalm 146). He reminds us that we were once oppressed, and He rescued us. He reminds us that He was reviled and yet did not revile in return (1 Peter 2). He reminds us to think and act toward others as we would want them to think and act toward us. He asks us as He asked the people of old, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before the Lord?”

“Let them pay for their past wrongdoing.” This kind of thinking happens to us! And then Jesus speaks to us.

Charles Colson (I will stay away from his political maneuverings) wrote after he came to faith in Christ about the impact that one single individual can have on righting the ills of society. He spoke of you and me as individual soldiers in a powerful army, with each soldier faithfully doing their part. We live in a messed-up world, in a fragmented America, in a morally bankrupt society. And yet the gospel is still powerful unto salvation, and consequently still powerful to bring about reconciliation to divisive forces within our society. God’s call to me, and to you, is to think and act with compassion toward those around us. I can choose, and you can choose to be one of those individuals who will in fact think with compassion and act with compassion as we interact relationally with those in our family, our neighborhood, our city, our nation, and our world!