SO, GOD HAS FEELINGS TOO!
(All definitions come from Strong's Exhaustive Concordance unless otherwise stated.)
DO YOU KNOW WHAT HURTS ME?
The Bible tells us to love our neighbor - and Jesus portrayed the true nature of that love in the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. He taught that love sees a need or a hurt and responds to it.
A story related by Madeleine L'Engle in her book Walking On Water underscores this truth: A rabbi known for his deep piety was unexpectedly confronted one day by one of his devoted young followers. In an outburst of feeling, the youthful disciple exclaimed, "My master, I love you! The teacher looked up sadly from his books and asked, "Do you know that hurts me, my son?" His question puzzled the young man. Composing himself, he stammered, "I don't understand your question, Rabbi. I am trying to tell you how much you mean to me, and you confuse me with irrelevant questions." "My question is neither confusing nor irrelevant," the rabbi responded. "For if you do not know what hurts me, how can you truly love me?"
Let me rephrase that question, "If we do not know what hurts people, how can we truly show them the love of Jesus Christ?"
All around me I see hurting people, but I don't see many people who can sympathize, relate to, or have compassion on those who are experiencing difficulty. Perhaps we have been anesthetized to the pain of hurting people by the news media. Every day the television, radio, newspaper and tabloids remind us of a world filled with hurting people. A tornado deals death and devastation. A flash flood sweeps many away into sudden death. Two ships collide and 2,000 people lose their lives. An airplane crashes and 250 are killed. Terrorists slaughter missionaries. A father murders his family. A young mother is dying from AIDS because her late husband was promiscuous. Divorced parents fight for the custody of their bewildered children. There is much pain in this world that we seem to be oblivious to?
Well, God has refocused my vision through the lenses of Luke 4:16-20. In this passage of Scripture, God has called me to have compassion on hurting people through the preaching of the gospel. I have devoted my life to preaching the gospel to the poor, to proclaiming consolation for the broken-hearted, to proclaiming freedom for those who are imprisoned, to proclaiming liberty to those who are downtrodden, to proclaiming recovery of sight to the blind, to proclaiming this season of grace. This is my call, but it is not mine alone. It is the call of every Christian and particular the call of every member and constituent of The House of the Lord.
So, why aren't we heeding God's call to show compassion to hurting people? Perhaps we don't hear the call? Perhaps there are other calls competing for our attention? Perhaps we don't know the Bible that well? Perhaps we don't know God that well?
At any rate this is a major problem, because compassion is a major call to all who are Christians. The lack of compassion around me, as I view things, plus the severe need to know the character of God catapulted me into a biblical study of one of, if not the, most dominant characteristics of God: His compassion. So, as I did in my major study on faith, I began to survey every place that the word compassion and its cognates occur in the Bible. The word "compassion" and its cognates are found some 113 times in the NASB. I have studied the Hebrew and Greek derivation of every word translated "compassion, compassions, or compassionate" in every text of the NASB and it is plain to see that this is a major attribute of God and a major biblical doctrine!
I have decided to share my findings with you in a systematic and exhortatory way.
In order to understand the importance of compassion in the scheme of biblical doctrine, it is important to return to the author and giver of all compassion: Jehovah God.
As I have already stated, the words "compassion," "compassions" and "compassionate" occur 113 times in the NASB, but it is important to note that virtually all of these occurrences have to do with the nature of God.
(So, to begin our monumental study of the biblical doctrine of compassion, let's study God's revelation of Himself in the Old Testament with respect to His compassion.)
To understand God's revelation of Himself with respect to compassion, we must begin with His self-revelation with respect to love: because His compassion flows from His love, which we shall abundantly see.
A. H. Strong categorizes the attribute of God's love as one of the absolute or immanent attributes (i.e. ending within God and inherent within Himself as a part of His nature).
As we start this discussion, we must keep in mind that we will be using some new and difficult terms. Every term will be amply explained and illustrated. Consequently, let me begin that practice right now.
There are absolute attributes of God, i.e. those which end within Himself. And there are relative attributes of God, i.e. those which are extended to His creatures. We must wonder, although we refer to some attributes of God as absolute, can any attributes of God really be absolute? If they were really absolute, if they really ended within God, then how would we know about them? We know about them because God has chosen to reveal them to us. Therefore, we must understand that the attributes of God are in some facets both absolute and relative. So, when we define God's attributes as absolute and relative, we are talking about their dominant characteristic.
(We are now ready to define the love of God from which His compassion flows.)
A. H. Strong defines God's love as the divine nature in virtue of which God is eternally moved to self-communication. Once again, although this is absolute, i.e. it ends in God, i.e. He has not given mankind an eternal impulse to self-communication, its manifestation is relative. Our impulse to communication is temporal and tainted!
He further describes the immanent love of God as a rational and voluntary affection, grounded in perfect reason and deliberate choice. So, God's love is an emotion or sensibility that is surrounded and supported by His intellect and His will. Therefore, it involves God's entire Being, intellect, emotion and will.
(Now we are ready to look at God's self-revelation with respect to compassion.)
The most frequently used Hebrew word for the concept of compassion is the primary word racham (raw-kham'), 7355, which literally means to fondle, love or be compassionate. This is very instructive, because to be compassionate is basically to feel or demonstrate love. Hence, as I stated before, compassion flows from love. This word is usually used of God. We will see in our study that this relative emotion and demonstration of love flows from the absolute lovingkindness of Jehovah God. Therefore, the emotion and demonstration of compassion is a relative attribute, divine perfection, or characteristic of the personality of Jehovah God. Compassion is the relative demonstration of God's immanent love.
Let me approach this from another vantage point. Although we will not have time to study the word "mercy," it is interesting to note the relationship of mercy to compassion. Mercy is one of several synonyms for compassion and A. H. Strong expressly categorizes mercy as one of the relative or transitive attributes of God. The word transitive means having relation to Time and Space. Therefore, since mercy and compassion are synonyms and mercy is a relative, transitive (related to time and space) attribute of God, then compassion must also be a relative, transitive attribute of God. We have proved this syllogistically. Remember your syllogisms: if a = b and b = c; then a = c. If compassion = mercy and mercy = relative, transitive attribute of God; then compassion = relative, transitive attribute of God.
If you did not understand all of that: don't worry! I will state it and explain it over and over again in the next 14 messages. So, hand on!!!
(It will be difficult to go any further in this discussion of compassion without some kind of definition of the word "compassion." I intend to develop a full blown definition of the word "compassion," but for now let me give you a short definition of the word "compassion.")
Compassion is "a deep feeling for and an understanding of suffering with an accompanying desire to relieve that suffering" (Webster's Third New International Dictionary). Therefore, compassion is a deep feeling for suffering that is grounded in the understanding thereof, which often issues into a conscious desire to relieve that suffering. In short, compassion is a deep feeling for suffering, based on understanding the condition, which impacts one's will. Even though compassion is predominantly a feeling, it involves one's whole inner man, i.e. intellect, emotion and will.
(Our definition so far has indirectly come from the Bible, the definition of the original Hebrew word for "compassion", my general Bible knowledge and some definitions from A. H. Strong. But let's go much further than this, by studying the various occurrences of the words "compassion," "compassions," and "compassionate," in the Bible and making observations, interpretations, applications and doctrinal propositions or principles. I have grouped together all Scriptures that use a particular Hebrew or Greek word according to frequency of usage. Then after observation and interpretation, I have drawn from that group of Scriptures a propositional statement or principle. Although I drew these principles from an inductive study of the Scriptures, we shall, for the sake of simplicity, begin deductively with the principle.)
Principle #1: Jehovah God, as to His nature, is love. He consistently demonstrates His love by being compassionate.
(As we look at how each of these principles concerning God's compassion is represented in the Scripture, we shall make specific observations in each individual passage of Scripture. Although these observations will, in many cases, include an observation, an interpretation and an application, for the sake of brevity we shall call these statements "observations". We shall number them with a double number. The first number will indicate the principle that is being applied and the second number will indicate the particular observation with respect to that principle.)
The word racham (raw-kham'), 7355, is translated compassionate one time in
Psalm 116:5, "Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; Yes, our God is compassionate."
Observation 1.1: Here we have a direct statement to the compassionate nature of Jehovah God! This Scripture made it easy to formulate principle number 1.
This same word is translated love one time in
Hosea 14:4, "I will heal their apostasy, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them."
Here is a statement from God about His wayward bride Israel and in this statement the same Hebrew word that is translated "compassionate" is translated "love." This is in keeping with what we have already reasoned: God's love is both absolute and relative, intransitive and transitive, immanent and expressed!
This same word is translated compassion 35 times in the following Scriptures:
Two times the word is not concerned with God.
1 Kings 8:50, "And forgive Thy people who have sinned against Thee and all their transgressions which they have transgressed against Thee, and make them objects of compassion before those who have taken them captive, that they may have compassion on them."
Even though this Scripture is not directly concerned with God's love, it is concerned with God making His people objects of compassion. We shall see that all compassion comes from God.
Isaiah 13:18, "And their bows will mow down the young men, They will not even have compassion on the fruit of the womb, Nor will their eye pity children."
According to what we have just read, we can understand this Scripture and surmise that the wicked have no compassion.
Twenty-seven times the word is used with respect to the compassion of God.
Exodus 33:19, "And He said, `I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.'"
Observation 1.2: No man can lay any just claim to the grace and compassion of Jehovah God. His grace and compassion are unconditional and they originate within Himself. His grace and compassion are unconditional in the sense that there were no conditions stated whereby the Israelites first obtained this compassion. There are conditions which must be met to keep this compassion or to restore it in time, but the ultimate salvation of Israel is based upon God's lovingkindness and compassion.
It seems expedient to cover the New Testament quotation of this passage here. Paul quotes this passage of Scripture in
Romans 9:15, "For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."
The Greek word which Paul chose to translate racham raw-kham' is oikteiro 3627. The definition of oikteiro is "pity," and pity is a sympathetic, heartfelt sorrow for one suffering in any way. Therefore, this passage of Scripture states that it is God's sovereign choice to show compassion towards whomever He chooses. We shall study the relationship of pity to compassion in a later study.
The same is true of the New Testament Christian. God, in His own sovereignty, has chosen us to be recipients of His infinite compassion! That choice is unconditional from God's perspective, but conditioned on faith from our perspective. This is an antimony, i.e. a paradox!
Deuteronomy 13:17, "And nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand, in order that the Lord may turn from His burning anger and show mercy to you, and have compassion on you and make you increase, just as He has sworn to your fathers."
Observation 1.3: Jehovah's mercy and compassion can be stayed because of His anger. Anger short-circuits, prohibits or prevents compassion. His anger in this case was because of the future rebellion of the Jews. This particular instance of anger would be precipitated by disobeying this particular law.
We should learn from the experiences of the Jews the seriousness of disobeying God, i.e. the Word of God. Disobedience angers God and at least inhibits his temporal compassion! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God!
(Let's take the next two Scripture out of biblical sequence, because they relate to anger.)
Isaiah 54:8, "`In an outburst of anger I hid My face from you for a moment; But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,' Says the Lord your Redeemer."
Observation 1.4: God's anger and its demonstration, the hiding of His face, towards Israel is momentary, but His lovingkindness (hesed) and its demonstration, compassion, is everlasting. This is stated again in
Psalm 30:5ab, "For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime."
Isaiah 60:10, "And foreigners will build up your walls, And their kings will minister to you; For in My wrath I struck you, And in My favor I have had compassion on you."
Deuteronomy 30:3, "Then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you."
Observation 1.5: Because of the future rebellion of His people, His justice and His anger, God told the Israelites that He would scatter them among the nations to be slaves. At the same time, He gives them temporal conditions of returning to Him, i.e. repentance and obeying Him, i.e. faith, to restore His temporal compassion upon them. Repentance is not a work, nor an additional condition for salvation, but is a part of the gift and grace of faith. Obedience is not a work or an additional condition to salvation, but the fruit and result of genuine faith. When the Israelites returned to genuine faith in God, they would effect His compassion. That compassion would be demonstrated by gathering them from their dispersion and captivity and restoring them to the promised land.
Praise God, that He as to His nature is love; and that He consistently demonstrates His love by being compassionate; and that He has chosen us, in Jesus Christ, before the foundation of the world to be recipients of His unconditional compassion! We should also praise God for that fact that He has revealed to us what angers Him, how that anger impacts us, and what we need to do to assuage the anger of God. God has revealed to us how to stay in the center of His compassion! Ain't a that good news!
(Now is the day of Salvation. Come to Jesus, now!)
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