True Compassion

My husband drew my attention to an article in the most recent issue of Gottesdienst. Think on Rev. David Petersen’s words:

Compassion leads to action, but is not action. It is identification and suffering with the afflicted. The old saw “misery loves company” usually means we like to bring others down with us, but we might turn it around a bit. We might see the example of our Lord and recognize that compassion loves by joining misery. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15 ESV).

Compassion moves the compassionate to action eventually. That action is often material aid, practical assistance, or comfort to relieve the afflicted, or the proclamation of Law and then forgiveness and hope in Christ. But even before the action there is the sympathy and identification. Sometimes, maybe most times, those who are hurting need to hear and know that their hurt is valid and is also unjust. Strangely, it is comforting to know that our mental anguish, our sense of frustration, and our anger are legitimate reactions to a sinful and unjust world…

The first response to suffering isn’t a solution or a fix, but pain. This pain carries with it the realization that nothing afflicts any of us that is not common to man or that our Lord Himself did not endure in the greatest and most terrible measure. This is different from gratitude. It recognizes that it could have been us, such as we hear in the oft-used John Bradford line: “There but for the grace of God go I.” That is part of it, to be sure. But compassion is suffering that is felt in the heart and mind because someone else is suffering and shouldn’t be. They are like sheep without a shepherd. That sad plight moves the heart of the observer first to pity; then comes gratitude and action.*

* Petersen, David H.  (Trinity 2012, Vol. 20, No. 1). “Praying for Pity’s Sake.” Gottesdienst: The Journal of the Lutheran Liturgy, 9-10.