A recent YouGov report issued in the United Kingdom indicates a crisis of empathy within UK society. Empathy connects individuals at the emotional level. It is the ability to sense or feel emotionally what the other person is experiencing.
Regardless of the factual accuracy of the research (and there is little reason to doubt it), if we accept the words of Christ at face value – that as lawlessness abounds the love of many will wax cold – then we know that empathy will be a diminishing quality. Lawlessness is increasing in our societies at all levels. Correspondingly, empathy is in retreat.
Most of us will at some time be in a situation where we are attempting to offer comfort to someone who is struggling over a difficult situation in life. Perhaps it is an illness, a life-threatening disease, a death of a loved one, a divorce ¬– a deeply emotional trial for the person involved. Sympathy comes reasonably naturally. We feel compassion, sorrow or pity. We are on the outside looking in and feel for the person involved. However, empathy takes you inside. You share the emotions the other person is experiencing as though the situation is yours. Empathy weeps with those who weep (Romans 12:15).
The Apostle Paul encouraged members of the Church to be tenderhearted (Ephesians 4:32). This word is formed from two root words which refer to deep emotion felt in the internal organs of the body. That feeling is an indicator of the strength of compassion. The Apostle Peter linked compassion for one another together with being tenderhearted (1 Peter 3:8).
Have you ever wondered why God allows His people to experience many of the hardships of life that those not called now go through? We recently heard of an incident many years ago where a young man in the Church became completely paralyzed from the neck down caused by a freak accident. You immediately ask – why did God allow that? Maybe Paul gives us some insight when he wrote, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). Our personal experience allows us to identify much more closely with a person who is going through the same or similar situation.
As lawlessness increases, it will be tempting to turn off and turn away in order to handle the stress. We do not have the option of withdrawing our love or letting it grow cold. This is especially true when it comes to members of the body. “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Corinthians 12:26-27).
The old expression of walking a mile in some else’s shoes has nothing to do with shoes. It is about feeling as they are feeling and thinking as they are thinking. This forms an emotional bond that makes the other person feel that someone else really understands what they are going through. It is real support in time of great need. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
In a world of declining empathy, we might want to take some time to examine our own mindset. Are we becoming hardened by the constant stream of violence and lawlessness coming at us from all angles? For most of us, the source is not as much entertainment as it is from world media news sources. We need to turn our full attention toward those who need empathetic understanding and listen closely to what they are trying to say. That is a key to getting inside the emotions of the other person and thus being able to understand and potentially help them.