Empathy is woven deep into the fabric of Scripture. Virtually every instruction God offers regarding the way we’re to treat others begins with empathy. As we live in community, and seek to reflect Christ, it’s important that we continue to read the Bible and listen to the biblical definition of empathy. Here are four examples.
1. “All of you be of one mind” (1 Peter 3:8).
The “one mind” that the apostle Peter refers to in this passage is the mind of Christ, which is what all Christians aspire to have. But Peter’s call for unity among believers cannot be answered without empathy and understanding. In order to be one with other people, we must develop a deep understanding of
- who they are
- how they became that person
- what they know
- how they learned it
- what they hold dear
- why they hold it dear
- how they feel
- why they feel that way.
According to Peter, oneness is created by treating one another with compassion, love, tenderness and courtesy—four qualities that lie at the heart of empathy.
2. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
Those who rejoice usually do so because good things are happening in their lives. If we’re not careful, other people’s rejoicing can trigger feelings of competition or jealousy. The urge to “top” others with stories of our own successes—or to wallow in envy because we don’t have as much to rejoice over—can be hard to resist.
Those who weep usually do so because they’ve suffered a devastating loss or misfortune. That can create some messy emotional landscapes. It’s nearly impossible to tread into the lives of hurting people without getting our hands dirty. The urge to stay out of the mess—to send our thoughts and prayers from a safe distance—can be hard to resist.
But that’s not what empathy is, and that’s not what God calls us to.
3. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).
Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. So technically speaking, He knew there was no reason for Lazarus’ loved ones to mourn. He knew that in a matter of minutes, their tears would turn to joy. So Jesus would have been excused for rolling His eyes and shaking His head over the people’s reaction to something so … temporary.
Yet Jesus didn’t give Lazarus’ mourners the side-eye. He didn’t try to talk them out of their grief. He didn’t chide them for their lack of faith. Jesus saw people who were hurting, and it made Him hurt, too. He empathized so strongly with those who were mourning that He wept.
4. “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15).
The book of Hebrews presents Jesus as a defense attorney of sorts. He represents His followers before God the Judge. While Satan, the prosecuting attorney, levels charges against us, demanding that God punish our sins, Jesus rebuts his accusations by reminding God that His (Jesus’) blood covers our offenses.
What makes Jesus an especially effective Counselor and Defender is His experience on earth. He expertly represents us before God because He empathizes with us. He knows what it is to be tempted and weak. He understands us because He experienced what we experience and endured what we endure.
Many great Christian thinkers, past and present, have grappled with what it means to love your neighbor and live out your faith in community. Now you are explore what many of them say with the in-text commentary of the Ancient-Modern Bible. One Faith. Handed Down. For All The Saints.