RECONSIDERING THE DEFINITION
OF THE WORD `COMPASSION' 2
114: "NOTHING SO KINGLY AS KINDNESS"
A small crippled boy was hurrying to catch a commuter train. Carrying some gift packages under his arm, he was experiencing great difficulty in manipulating his crutches. As the people rushed by, someone accidentally bumped into him, knocking the brightly wrapped parcels in all directions. The man who caused the mishap stopped only long enough to scold the youngster for being so clumsy and getting in his way. Another gentleman, seeing the boy's distress, went to his aid. He quickly picked up the scattered gifts and slipped a dollar bill into the youngster's pocket, saying, "I'm sorry, sonny! I hope this makes up a little for your trouble." With a smile he went on his way. The child, who had seldom been shown such kindness, called after him in gratitude, "Mister-- please sir, are you Jesus?" "No, "replied his new-found friend, "but I am one of His followers."
As followers of Jesus Christ, we ought to demonstrate the compassion of Jesus Christ!!!
We have been studying the magnificent compassion of Jehovah God. We have surveyed all the places in the Old Testament where the words "compassion," "compassions," and "compassionate" occur in the New American Standard Bible. We have made observations, interpretations and applications at virtually every occurrence of these words. We have surveyed all the various Hebrew words and their nuances.
In our last message, we spent the entire message comparing the first phrase in Webster's definition of the term "compassion" with Jehovah God's revelation of Himself as a compassionate God. We stated that Jehovah God's revelation of Himself, as a compassionate God, in His Word, meets every characteristic of Webster's definition of the word "compassion" and beyond. Then we began to thoroughly explore Webster's definition of the word "compassion" in the light of God's Self-revelation.
To make sure that we understand compassion, we are going to continue to explain and expound upon the definition and usage of compassion with most of its nuances.
(Let's continue on with that exploration by repeating Webster's definition of compassion:)
compassion "deep feeling for and understanding of misery or suffering and the concomitant desire to promote its alleviation : spiritual consciousness of the personal tragedy of another or others and selfless tenderness directed toward it."
In our last message, we dealt with the first idea:
1. Compassion is a deep feeling for misery or suffering.
We are still working on this idea.
(Webster's Third New International Dictionary helps us out by contrasting various terms related to "sympathy." So, let's look at:)
1) The Contrasts.
(1) "Sympathy is the most general term, ranging in meaning from friendly interest or agreement in taste or opinion to emotional identification, often accompanied with deep tenderness."
We learned in all the principles, but stated specifically in Principle #7, that Jehovah God is a tender God.
(2) "Pity has the strongest emotional connotation; the emotion may be one of tenderness, love, or respect induced by the magnitude of another's suffering or of fellowship with the sufferer. Pity may suggest a tinge of contempt for one who is inferior whether because of suffering or from inherent weakness; there is also a frequent suggestion that the effect, if not the purpose, of pity is to keep the object in an weak or inferior state."
As we have already studied and stated, God is the only one who can demonstrate this kind of pity because He is the Superior bending over to help us, the inferior. Secondarily, God does not wish to keep us in a weak state; He wants us to grow. We will, however, always be inferior to God!
(3) "Compassion originally meant fellowship in suffering between equals; now it denotes imaginative or emotional sharing of the distress or misfortune of another or others who are considered or treated as equals; it implies tenderness and understanding as well as an urgent desire to aid and spare."
Emotions are a part of the soul.
Emotions are a part of who we are.
Emotions are not to be split off and ignored.
Emotions tell us that we are alive.
Emotions tell us when something is right or wrong.
Emotions give color to life.
Sharing someone else's emotions of distress with tenderness, understanding, and the desire to aid is sharing the love of God with another person.
164: I CRIED WITH HER
A little girl came home after being with a friend and said to her mother, "Janie was very sad, Mommy, because her kitty died. But I helped her feel better." When asked what she had done, she replied, "I cried with her." How wonderful it would be if we as Christians were as perceptive as that 4-year-old child. She realized that sharing her friend's sorrow would do more good than anything else. Sometimes words, even those based on the Bible, are no substitute for genuine sympathy. When a person sees how much we really care, only then can our comments bring help and encouragement.
People don't care how much you know; 'till they know how much you care!!!
"While compassion suggests a greater dignity in the object than pity often does (according to the strict definition and usage of the word), it also implies a greater detachment in the subject." Let me say this another way: From the strict human definition of the word compassion, compassion gives more dignity to the object than pity, but pity shows more attachment than compassion.
(4) "Commiseration denotes a spontaneous and vocal expression, often made in public or by a crowd."
When you can commiserate with another's pain, you often cry out about it. We often cry out spontaneously, when we view someone suffering something that we can identify with. God does the same with us!
(5) "Condolence denotes a formal expression of sympathy especially for the loss of a relative through death and refers strictly to an observance of etiquette without any implication as to the underlying feeling."
Condolences are the proper, correct, expression of sympathy without necessarily dealing with or expressing the underlying feelings. Feelings of sorrow are not always mannerable or proper from an etiquette perspective, but they are often real pronouncements of real pain from real people!
"Commiseration and condolence agree in placing the emphasis on expression of a feeling for another's affliction rather than on the feeling itself."
(6) "Empathy (according to Webster) of all the terms here represented, has the least emotional content; it describes a gift, often a cultivated gift, for vicarious feeling, but the feeling need not be one of sorrow; thus empathy is often used as a synonym for some senses of sympathy as well as in distinction from sympathy. Empathy is frequently employed with reference to a non-human object."
While we need to have empathy in some cases, empathy is very seldom experienced, cultivated or displayed. When it is displayed, it is my opinion that it is displayed in co-dependent relationships where one person is addicted to another. This is a great deal of misunderstanding with the usage of the word "empathy." While "empathy" is a worth while gift to cultivate, the other terms here which are representative of "deep emotional feeling for" probably precede empathy and are easier to develop.
God has a capacity, i.e. an ability, for knowing how His creatures feel. Because of that ability, He empathized with us to point of becoming one of us and dying on the cross for us.
(Believe it or not, we are now ready to explore the second constituent part of the definition of the word "compassion.")
2. Compassion is an understanding of misery or suffering.
We have just finished an exhausting look at all of the emotional side of "compassion." But "compassion" also has an intellectual side. It is possible to have a deep feeling for the misery or suffering of another person without understanding that misery or suffering. I believe that there are a good number of people who have a deep feeling for me as a person and as their pastor, but they really don't understand the misery or suffering of being a pastor. Therefore, it is difficult for them to demonstrate compassion.
25: LITTLE PEOPLE
Poet Shel Silverstein wrote a heart-touching verse entitled, "The Little Boy and the Old Man." In it he portrays a young boy talking to an elderly gentleman. Silverstein has the boy saying, " Sometimes I drop my spoon." "I do that too," replies the old man. "I often cry," continues the boy. The old man nods, "So do I." "But worst of all," says the boy, "it seems grownups don't pay any attention to me." Just then the boy feels" the warmth of a wrinkled old hand." "I know what you mean," says the little old man.
(One question that comes to mind is, "How do we cultivate a "deep feeling for" and the "understanding of" the misery or suffering of another?)
One of the most important ways of cultivating "deep feeling for" and "understanding of" the misery or suffering of another is personal suffering.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all of our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."
LESSONS LEARNED IN TRIBULATION
Experience is a great teacher. We learn the most from what affects us personally. Consider the following story: The English artist Joseph Turner once invited Charles Kingsley to his studio to see a picture he had just completed of a storm at sea. Kingsley was filled with admiration and inquired, "How did you make it so realistic?" The artist replied, "When I decided to paint this scene, I thought it would be best to go to the coast of Holland and hire a fisherman to take me out in his boat during an actual storm. I knew this was the only way I could get a feel for my subject. The boatman bound me to the mast so I could watch the squall in safety. I not only observed it and sensed its power, but the tempest blew itself into me until I seemed to become a part of it. When it was over, I was able to depict on canvas all the fury I had felt at sea."
When we have personally experienced and survived the tempests and storms of life, when we have felt their fury in our souls and been comforted by God, then we will understand misery enough to be able to comfort others with the comfort wherewith we have been comforted!
1033: HOW GOD MAKES COMFORTERS
J. W. Bramhall says, "Sorrow can lead us into one of four lands: the barren land in which we try to escape from it; the broken land in which we sink under it; the bitter land in which we resent it; or the better land in which we bear it and become a blessing to others."
(Alright, let's move on to the next constituent element in the definition of "compassion.")
3. Compassion has with it a concomitant desire to promote the alleviation of the particular misery or suffering.
We have already observed the fact that "compassion" has a deep emotional element and an intellectual element, but "compassion" also has a volitional element. It is the interaction of the intellect, emotion, and ultimately the will that leads a person to make a choice to take some action. 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.
We notice, in this element of the definition, a concomitant desire to promote the alleviation of the particular misery or suffering. The word concomitant means
concomitant "accompanying or attending especially in a subordinate or incidental way."
So, this desire is not the most important element of compassion, because the most important element of compassion is "a deep feeling for." But this subordinate, incidental desire is indicative of the will's choice to take action on behalf of the emotions and intellect.
(Let's move on to the next constituent element of the definition of the word "compassion.")
4. Compassion is the spiritual consciousness of the personal tragedy of another or others.
First, we had better understand what is meant by "spiritual." The word "spiritual" here means
spiritual "5 : related or joined in spirit : spiritually akin : having a relationship one to another based on matters of the spirit."
Even Webster's Dictionary, which is not religious in the least, classifies compassion as a spiritual consciousness. I believe the writers of the dictionary are talking about the human spirit. Because we are all human beings, who all go through the same categories of sufferings, who all have a human spirit, we should have a "spiritual" awareness of the common suffering of mankind. This is backed up in the Scripture.
1 Corinthians 10:13a, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man..."
Therefore, we should have this kind of "spiritual consciousness" for any human being, but I believe that beyond our own small circle of loved ones it takes the Holy Spirit. I believe that this is one of the hardest and last virtues to develop. Why? Because it grows out of love and maturity. We need the power of the Holy Spirit and crises to make us spiritually aware of the needs and suffering of others and to prompt us to understand and attempt to promote the alleviation of both. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
1034: A FUTILE SEARCH BUT A VALUABLE LESSON
An elderly Chinese philosopher was once approached by a young woman who was grief stricken because of the loss of her only son. "I will be able to help you," he assured her, "if you will bring me some mustard seed; but it must be obtained at a home where there has never been any sorrow." Eagerly the woman started her search. In every place she visited, however, there had been trials and loss of loved ones. Returning, she exclaimed, "How selfish I have been! Sorrow is common to all." " Ah," said the elderly sage, "you have now learned a valuable lesson and acquired a wealth of wisdom which not only has eased your grief, but also has prepared you to sympathize.
(Let's move on to the last constituent element in the definition of the word "compassion.")
5. Compassion is not only "spiritual consciousness" of the personal tragedy of another or others, it is also selfless tenderness directed towards the personal tragedy of another.
It is this "selfless tenderness" that distinguishes "compassion" from most of the other synonyms. No wonder God chose to repeatedly depict Himself, in His Word, as a compassionate God. No wonder we, as Christians, are exhorted in the Word to be compassionate.
Therefore compassion is a deep feeling for misery and suffering that is grounded in the understanding thereof, which often issues into a conscious desire to relieve that suffering. It is a spiritual consciousness of and selfless tenderness towards the personal tragedy of others. Webster's definition of "compassion" lines up with and is fully demonstrated by Jehovah God!
(Now is the day of Salvation. Come to Jesus, now!)
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