A Word from Bob
You’re reading Part 5 of a blog mini-series on empathy.
- You can read Part 1 here: Truth Without Empathy Is Sin.
- You can read Part 2 here: Rich Soul Empathy—Climbing in the Casket.
- You can read Part 3 here: How to Be a Miserable, Non-Empathetic, “Comforter.”
- You can read Part 4 here: What Is Biblical Empathy?
There’s been some controversy in evangelical Christian circles the past year about “empathy,” with some even saying “empathy is sinful.” For 36 years (since 1985), I’ve equipped God’s people for compassionate, empathetic one-another care. This issue has been important to me long before the current controversy. In this blog series, rather than giving you a negative critique of those who say, “empathy is sinful,” I’m providing a positive presentation of what the Bible says about one-another care. And, rather than “re-inventing the wheel,” I’m taking this series from the culmination of 36 years of thinking about this, as summarized in my equipping book, Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ. And I’ve also developed today’s post—Part 5—from my latest book, Consider Your Counsel: Addressing Ten Mistakes in Our Biblical Counseling.
Soul Care in Light of the Ultimate Soul Physician: Trinitarian Empathy
A.W. Tozer famously explained that:
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about” (The Knowledge of the Holy, 1).
I would add that:
As one-another ministers, the most important thing about us is our biblical view of God.
Today I’d like to talk about one aspect of Who God is—our Empathetic Counselor. The Trinity’s comforting care for the suffering is the model and motivation behind our ministry of empathy to one another.
Let’s Empathize Like the Father of Compassion and the God of All Comfort
Paul uses the Greek word for “comfort” ten times in 2 Corinthians 1:3–7. Do you think comfort may be the theme of these verses?
He begins developing his theme by presenting a crystal clear image of God.
“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 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” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
All comfort is ultimately sourced in God. The flip side of that is to say that worldly comfort—comfort not sourced in God—is ultimately empty, vain, hollow comfort.
Empathize Like Our Compassionate Father
The Greek word for “mercies” (“compassion” in the NIV) means to feel another person’s agony—empathy. People in Paul’s day used the word to signify empathetic lament.
Isaiah 63:9 tells us that in all Israel’s distress, God too was distressed. God laments our pain; God aches when we ache; He weeps when we weep. He is the Father of compassion.
Is this our image of God when life is bad? In our suffering, do we see God as our Father who empathetically and sympathetically laments with us?
Is this our functional image of God as Christian friends? When suffering friends or counselees come to us, do we sympathetically lament with them? This involves their pain becoming our pain—we feel their inner suffering as if it was our own—we empathize.
Empathize Like Our Comforting Father
God is the God of all comfort. The word for “comfort” pictures God caring for us and fortifying us. He gives us his strength to endure. Paul and others used the word comfort to picture:
- A lawyer advocating for a client;
- A mother wrapping her arms of protection around her child;
- A solider standing back-to-back with a comrade in danger.
In the midst of our suffering, is this our image of God? In our suffering, do we see God as our Advocate, as our Protector, as our Ally?
Is this our functional image of God as Christian friends? When suffering friends or counselees come to us, do they experience us as their caring advocate, as their concerned protector, as their empathetic ally?
Let’s Empathize Like Jesus Our Sympathetic/Empathetic High Priest
Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6). And our Counselor is the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).
The New Testament picture further develops this Old Testament image. Jesus is our sympathetic/empathetic High Priest.
“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Jesus identifies with us—empathizing and sympathizing with us. And as we turn to him we receive grace, mercy, and help in our weakness, neediness, suffering, and sinfulness.
“Jesus shared in our humanity so that he might be a merciful and faithful High Priest. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:17–18).
Deeply Moved and Troubled
What Hebrews describes, Jesus models in His ministry. We think of John 11 and tend to focus on verse 35, “Jesus wept.” A moving verse, no doubt, and certainly indicative of Jesus as a man of sorrows and as our empathetic High Priest, but we sometimes miss the verses that precede and follow John 11:35.
“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (John 11:33).
As we weep, do we see Jesus deeply moved and troubled over our suffering?
“So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’” (John 11:36).
Our view of Jesus will directly impact how we minister, relate, counsel, and convey Him to those around us. Do we counsel like the Wonderful Counselor? Do friends or counselees experience us as able to sorrow with them, as acquainted with grief—ours and theirs—as sympathetic and empathetic, as deeply moved and troubled on their behalf, as loving them deeply?
Let’s Empathize Like the Holy Spirit Our Divine Comforter
The disciples’ hearts were troubled when they learned that Jesus would be leaving (John 14:1–6). Because they were feeling abandoned, Jesus promised them, “I will not leave you as orphans” (John 14:18).
But how could Jesus leave them and not leave them? By sending them another Counselor, another Comforter, another Advocate, another Helper.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you…. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:16–18, 25–27).
The Greek word for “Helper” is the noun form of the word we saw for comfort in 2 Corinthians 1: parakaleo. The Holy Spirit is our Divine Parakaletic Counselor living within us. He is our Encouragement Counselor. He is our Comforting Counselor.
The Spirit practices his parakaletic counseling, in part, by grieving, groaning, and empathizing with us.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).
The Spirit identifies with us in our weaknesses, advocates for us in our struggles, and groans with us in our suffering.
Do we care like our Divine Comforter? Would our friends or counselees describe us as consoling, comforting, empathizing, and encouraging? Would they experience us as identifying with them, advocating for them, and groaning with them?
Let’s Consider Our Calling to Empathize Like the Trinity
In the immediate context of God the Father as our Comforter, Paul commands us to comfort one another.
“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 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” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
We are to be biblical comforters who empathize with one another because the Ultimate Soul Physician—the Trinity—is our Comforter who empathizes with us.
The Rest of the Story
Join us for Part 6:
- Empathy’s End Game: Hoping in Christ Alone
Join the Conversation
How could the Trinity be our model for biblical empathy?
Do we empathize with one another like our compassionate, comforting Father?
Do we empathize with one another like our sympathetic, empathetic High Priest?
Do we empathize with one another like our groaning, empathetic Holy Spirit?
The post The Trinity As Our Model for Empathy: Empathy Is Biblical, Part 5 appeared first on RPM Ministries.