God and Us: Compassion Versus Pity

Compassion is made up of two Latin roots married together which means “to suffer with.”  This is an action word, it requires you to be in the midst of something. Beside the person in their state of suffering. What this can often look like is pity. The Latin root of pity is “piety” but most definitions (Webster) look something along the lines of “to feel xxx for.”

Does it sound like an almost indiscernible difference? Like they are interchangeable? If we think back to the most painful loss that we’ve every experienced, at that point we most likely wanted someone to mourn “with” rather than someone who felt something “for” us.  In many instances, a “with” versus a “for” can make a big difference. When I think of my best mentors, leaders, pastors, teachers, they were the ones that exhibited compassion and empathy, not pity. So where do we see this modeled?

In the book Compassionate Ministry, Bryan Stone uses the example of Jesus since he is probably the most perfect example of compassion the world has ever seen. Is it because Jesus literally suffered with every one of us, collectively gathering our sin from each of us and lifting it from us, bearing our burden. Jesus is more in the midst of our collective suffering than we are. We experience a fraction of the amount Jesus bears for the world. Jesus is with us. How then, can we model Christ? Let us look at the words of Paul to the Galatians:

Galatians 6:1-3 “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.…”

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