The value, limits and benefits of properly applied compassion
When you think of compassion, what do you picture? Perhaps you see Jesus healing the multitudes or volunteers caring for victims of some natural disaster. Perhaps you see an individual patiently working with a disabled person or a soldier protecting children in a war torn region. Perhaps compassion makes you think of Doctors Without Borders or food drives for the hungry. Whatever it is, thinking about compassion probably makes you think about the best of humanity – it probably makes you think about that glimmer of hope that says we can get along. Now, when you think about compassion do you ever see yourself in the role of the compassionate? Wouldn’t you like to be in that role? Just what does it take to become a truly compassionate person and most importantly, what are the limits of compassion? Are there times when compassion is NOT appropriate?
To have compassion is a three-part experience. It is to be aware of the misfortune or disadvantage of another, to deeply feel the pain or suffering of that misfortune or disadvantage and to have a genuine personal desire to help. These three elements make for a powerful and compelling experience since, as humans, we can have compassion not only towards those we know but toward total strangers, animals and the entire world. While our compassion can be a powerful catalyst for positive action, it can also be a powerful catalyst for anxiety and frustration. You see, compassion in and of itself does not solve anything, and just because you or I have compassion for another does not mean we are miraculously endowed with the power to solve that person’s misfortune or disadvantage. This sounds depressing, so let me explain...
First, the best of compassion: Jesus was an extraordinary example of compassion in action. Every single time the Bible tells us “he had compassion” on a person or persons or a crowd – every single time he had compassion - he changed their circumstances – he healed or taught or fed the recipients of his personal compassion. Because of his compassion, Jesus always lifted others to a better place. This is not only comforting but thoroughly inspiring as well. If Jesus could achieve such totally positive results as a result of his compassion and we are Christians, footstep followers of Jesus, then surely we can look forward to achieving a measure of his results with our compassion!
While that is a nice thought, it is not reality- so here comes the rest of compassion. The fact is, the Bible describes our compassion toward others in an entirely different way than it describes Jesus’ compassion. It uses different words and comes to different conclusions as to the power and reach of our compassion. What this means is that our compassion for one another has clearly defined limits and needs to be observed and understood for what it is...as well as for what it is not.
Check out our March 27, 2017 podcast, “When is Compassion Wrong?” and fill in the gaps on how our compassion for one another works, what its limitations are and how we can maximize it for the betterment of all both now and in the future. Compassion can be a powerful and principled tool of godliness – learn to use it!
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