Having served in the army during the Vietnam era, each time I see that poignant image of Vietnamese children screaming in panic as they flee from a napalm attack, it transports me back to my own experience in a very visceral way. I feel their anguish and their pain.
A few years ago, when I saw a photograph of a little boy named Aylan, killed trying to escape the mayhem that tore apart Syria and looking so similar to my own grandson of the same age, again, I felt that same sense of loss and pain.
In such a hard-hearted, arrogant world, we are called now to be the antithesis:
“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you,” Ephesians 4:31, NKJV.
In the Psalms, David often wrote about God’s tender mercy and loving-kindness, a summation of His loving character. We seek to emulate God. Therefore tenderheartedness must also be an integral part of who we are.
But what is tenderheartedness?
It is compassion, kindness, and loving consideration of the needs of others. It’s also humility, as expressed through God’s law in the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments are about submitting to God, and the last six instruct us how to love our neighbor. By humbling ourselves before our fellow man, we serve their best interests. We don’t lie, steal, or harm them.
Burnt offerings were never the end-goal of God’s purpose. Instead, the sacrifice He wants is a clean, pure, and tender heart. We sacrifice ourselves by obeying God’s law and internalizing His standards and holy character. We can’t do this alone. We must ask God to create in us a tender heart.
Forgiveness is essential to developing a tender heart. We’re to love our fellow man, and that includes our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Christ prayed to the Father to forgive those who crucified Him and, by extension, us as well.
Forgiveness is so important that Christ instructed us to leave our offerings at the altar, reconcile with our brother, and straighten up our attitude before giving our offering. This is a deep-seated, sincere forgiveness and tenderheartedness.
When we face personal hurt, we must not respond in kind to the behavior and actions of others. Take the high ground, be the example of tenderheartedness. The time for reconciliation will come, but we cannot jeopardize that future healing by a harmful approach in the present.
In God’s future city, tenderheartedness will be extended to the most vulnerable. Everyone will sit under their vine and fig tree with no fear. We are preparing now to serve in that future time as leaders, trainers, and educators of the World Tomorrow.
When I think of those photographs of little children from Vietnam and Syria, abused, suffering, and dying in this world, I cling to the image of that future time (Zechariah 8:3-5). Children will have a safe future, cared for tenderly, and they will play in the streets alongside the elderly in the City of Truth, the Jerusalem to come!
By Gary MacPherson