IF I WERE EMPATHETIC, THEN I would feel the pain of others. Their poverty would be my poverty, their divorce would be my divorce, their cancer would be my cancer. Rationalization, however, is quick on the draw in such situations. How can I possibly be expected to carry such a load? I have enough problems of my own. But such rationale is soon to fade when we consider how desperate we are in similar situations and wonder where the encouraging word will come from. Where are all the believers when you need them? Have I been forsaken? Why hasn’t anyone called to see how I am doing?
Being empathetic does not mean that I am to carry the weight of the world’s problems. This is not reasonable and certainly not practical for one simple reason – all the world is hurting. The context of life is a world of pain and need. This does not, however, excuse me from being empathetic. Empathy has boundaries, and two things come into play for it to be carried out. First is proximity and second is familiarity. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians we find in the first chapter that we are to comfort others the same way we have been comforted by the Lord (1 Cor. 1:4). This implies that two conditions must be met if empathy is to transpire. First, I have to be in the vicinity of the one I am to give comfort to, and secondly, I am best equipped to minister if I have been through a similar heartache. So as you can see, I can easily get off the hook if these two don’t line up. However, if I am truly empathetic there is another way to do this. I can find someone who does qualify and encourage them to come alongside the wounded party. “Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that ye might know our affairs, and that he might comfort your hearts” (Eph. 6:22). In such cases, I am showing the love of Christ.
I will never care the way I should for those who are hurting. The Good Samaritan is not realistic. We will never pull over for every stranded motorist. It just isn’t going to happen. There is, however, someone who did more than just pull over. There is someone who has been touched with the feelings of our infirmities. There is someone who has suffered spiritual, emotional, and physical wounding. Where I have failed, He has triumphed and in this triumph I am moved to be like Him. When I am like Him, I will truly be empathetic.