Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
—Romans 12:15 ESV
I buried my parents four months apart. Losing any parent hits too close to home, but losing them so close together only amplifies the grief.
Recently, I heard that someone we know, a person much younger than me, lost parents close together. Sitting here now, that kind of grief rises up again. I know exactly how that person feels. You’re cut loose. The world seems emptier and disconnected. I know that feeling because I’ve been there.
As I mature in the Lord, I realize that no one gets a pass. You can’t walk around this planet long before you experience death, illness, betrayal, loss, and a host of other pains. Like ticks, painful realities cling to us and sap our vital energies. A sheep so afflicted can’t remove the tick on its own.
And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
—Matthew 9:35-38 ESV
We Evangelicals can’t cede the humanity of Jesus Christ to the mainline churches. We do a fine job of making Jesus the Christ, the Lord of All, but we tend to forget Jesus gave up His place beside the Father to take on flesh and the subsequent misery of the helpless sheep He came to save.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 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 2:14-18 ESV
We don’t hear too much about Jesus our Brother in Evangelical circles, an incalculable loss. Jesus’ humanity drew people. They knew they could approach Him. He wasn’t distant and removed, but walked among us, giving His life away, serving others.
He did this because at the core of who He was beat a heart of empathy. The very act of incarnation forever linked the Son of God with the people He created. Incarnation embodies empathy for others. And Jesus not only displayed that empathy by taking on flesh, but by fully becoming one of us, emotions and all:
Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 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. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
—John 11:32-36 ESV
For those of us who bear the image of Christ, empathy for our fellow men—be they believers or not—should permeate the core of who we are. Jesus felt Mary and Martha’s loss. The loss of a friend drove Him to tears. Even though He fully understood He could raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus still showed empathy. His lesson? No one, not even the Christ, should ever walk away from another’s pain.
People who call themselves Christians, but who so readily tear into another person, display little of Christ’s empathy. Our lives should always be lived with one eye on what it means to be someone else. Ultimately, Jesus, the Lord of the Universe, did the same by becoming a man.
His empathy compels us to treat a man as if you or I were in his shoes. That empathy drives The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31 rephrasing). Only then can we humbly dispense grace to those who so desperately need it.
Lastly, the empathetic nature of God shows in one final verse:
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
—1 John 4:19-21 ESV
Empathy for others proves itself when we say we love God, and vice versa. The relationship between our love of God and our love for others cannot be severed, for empathy drives it.
As we roll into Thanksgiving and Christmas, step into someone else’s life. This isn’t a call to overlook sin and how it leads to the shattered lives of people around us, only that we show empathy first. You and I have no idea what kind of living hell a person’s been through. Better that we empathize with him or her first because we ourselves went through our own hell. Without Christ we’d all still be living that hell right now. Lead with that empathetic love. Feel someone else’s pain and truly mean it.
Christ felt ours all the way to the cross.