A Word from Bob 

You’re reading Part 4 of a blog mini-series on empathy.

Mini-Series Introduction 

There’s been some controversy in Evangelical Christian circles the past year about “empathy,” with some saying, “empathy is sinful.” For 36 years (since 1985), I’ve equipped God’s people for compassionate, empathetic one-another care. So, this issue has been important to me long before the current controversy. In this blog mini-series, rather than giving you a negative critique of posts that say, “empathy is sinful,” I’m seeking to offer a positive presentation of what the Bible says about empathetic one-another care. Simply stated: I desire to present a brief biblical case for biblical empathy—what it is, why it’s vital, and how we minister Christlike empathy to one another. And, rather than “re-inventing the wheel,” I’m taking this series from the culmination of 36 years of thinking about this topic, as summarized in my equipping book, Gospel Conversations: How to Care Like Christ.

1. Biblical Empathy Is “As If” Relating

Rich soul empathy involves our capacity for “as if” relating. The Church Father, Ambrose, wrote:

“Show compassion for those who suffer. Suffer with those who are in trouble as if being in trouble with them.”[i] 

Soul empathy requires compassionate imagination. We need to imagine what it is like for our friends to experience their suffering. To understand others with intimate knowledge, we must read into their experiences asking:

“What is it like to experience and perceive the world through their soul, their eyes, their feelings?”              

Hebrews 2:14-18 and 4:15-16 teach that empathy is not less than, but more than, intellectual. It is also experiential. Biblical, Christ-like empathy shares the experiences of another, connecting through common inner experiences. Such soul sharing occurs by way of incarnation—entering another’s world and worldview.              

2. Biblical Empathy Is Shared Sorrow

As one-another ministers, the more human we are, the more real, the more fully alive and passionate, the more we will tune into others. Then we’ll experience a sympathetic resonance no matter the melody, dirge, minor or major key, or discordant note.               

When our soul is attuned to others, then we “pick up their radio waves, the vibes of their inner reactions.” Having accomplished this, we need to go the distance. We need to communicate to our spiritual friends in a way that helps them to “have empathy with our empathy.” They need to feel that we feel with them. Otherwise, their sorrow is not shared, it is simply “understood.” When both our “soul radios” are tuned to the same frequency, then we can share our soul friends’ experiences. We share their sorrows by climbing in the casket with them, and they know we are there.

While death is separation; shared sorrow is connection. It is the stitch connecting the wound. It is the healing balm. However, shared sorrow must never be a healing replacement. It must not replace grief.

Shared sorrow does not purpose to eliminate sorrow, to rescue, or to cheer up. Shared sorrow purposes to help another to face and embrace sorrow—face-to-face with Christ. 

3. Biblical Empathy Is Koinonia (The Fellowship of Suffering): Progressively Intense Connection/Communion 

Effective soul empathy includes several “levels.”

  1. Level One Empathy: “How would that affect an image bearer?” Here we seek to understand the other person through God’s eyes. A foundational level of empathy, it builds upon a universal biblical understanding of people.
  1. Level Two Empathy: “How would that affect an image bearer like me?” Here we seek to understand another person through our eyes. A filtering level, we use our life as a filter through which we relate God’s truth to our friend’s life. We prayerfully ponder what it would be like for us if we were facing what they are facing.
  1. Level Three Empathy: “How would that affect an image bearer like this particular person?” Here we understand the other person through their eyes. We move from universal to unique In this final, deepest level of soul empathy we need to:

I’m sure you’ve detected that empathy is much more than a hug. It also is more than trying to sense how someone feels. Biblical rich soul empathy is a comprehensive sensing of what the whole person longs for in their situation, what they think about their situation, what their goals are in their situation, and then how they feel about their situation.              

Rich soul empathy like this not only helps us to better understand how our friend is responding to her suffering. It helps our friend to better understand and honestly face her inner responses. We become a mirror reflecting back to our friend what is going on in her soul. The more clearly she understands her inner responses, the more powerfully and profitably she can take her soul to the Shepherd of her soul.

The Rest of the Story 

Join us for Part 5, where we’ll:

Join the Conversation 

In your hurt, who has cared for you with “as if” relating?

In your hurt, who has shared your sorrow?

In your hurt, who has joined you in the fellowship of your suffering?


[i]Quoted in, Thomas Oden, Classical Pastoral Care, Vol. 3, p. 8, emphasis added.


The post What Is Biblical Empathy?: Empathy Is Biblical: Part 4 appeared first on RPM Ministries.

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