The Great Gift of Human Beings

Last week I heard the news that Al and Tipper Gore were separated and on their way to divorce.. and I felt sad. A few month ago the news broke about how Sandra Bullock's husband, Jesse James, had been running around on her.. and I felt sad. I remember the feelings of sadness that I had when I heard of the passing of Christopher Reeve.. and then seemed to feel doubly sad when his wife Dana passed away leaving their son without a mom or a dad. I marvel at these feelings of empathy because I have never met any of the aforementioned people - I only knew of them but I did not know them.. their celebrity caught my attention.

Now before you get to thinking that I am too caught up in our celebrity culture I might remind you that this phenomenon is a fairly common one. Who can forget the feelings of sadness (and other emotions) that we had when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center? Or at the news of the shooting of President Kennedy? In fact sadness and empathy can also be elicited from fictional characters that we read in a book or watch in a movie or on TV. There seems to be something very human about the way that we can have feelings for people that are strangers - both the real and unreal ones.

Here are a few quotes from people about empathy and my thoughts about them:
Anyone who has experienced a certain amount of loss in their life has empathy for those who have experienced loss. -Anderson Cooper
I think that is true.. as we age we experience loss and are often more empathetic.
The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy. -Meryl Streep
Maybe this ability to empathize is what separates humanity from all of creation? Our ability to feel other's pain is an amazing gift for sure.
There is also a natural and very, very strong empathy with the underdog, with people who have suffered, people who have been pushed around by foreigners in particular, but also by their own people. -Lakhdar Brahimi
Rooting for the underdog is another aspect of empathy. Who isn't moved by someone who has fought all odds and overcome? We all rooted for Rocky.
I hope to leave my children a sense of empathy and pity and a will to right social wrongs. -Anita Roddick
I think that empathy is at the heart of social activism and is the reason people can escape beyond themselves and help people who are hurting and hopeless.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 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. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
-Book of Hebrews
When I think about the Jesus of the gospels I think about empathy and compassion. I think that one of the reasons that Jesus came was to teach us and show us that God is a being who is rich in empathy and that when we hurt he is there empathizing and showing us what is means to be truly human. It is in this context that prayer makes sense - we pray because we know God cares.

What comes to mind when you think about the word "empathy"?


  1. The many times "empathy" has been shared back and forth in ministry. Sometimes we were the ones giving, but always getting more in return.

    I will never forget the night we sat in the ER when our daughter was in the horrible car accident. I looked up, and over 30 people from our church crowded into that waiting room to embrace of with empathy, as we waited the outcome of the 4 hour surgery.....Yes, empathy is a divine gift from the Father.

  2. Thanks for that story Wanda. It reminded me of the 10 weeks of food that came into our house after my first wife had a heart attack. It was humbling to experience that level of empathy.


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