John 11:35 (NKJV)
Sometimes the hurting don’t need advice. Sometimes they don’t need a pep talk even when you know resurrection is the answer. Jesus had the answer. He knew their pain was temporary but he paused, and wept. Although the writer doesn’t tell us why Jesus wept, scripture gives us principles that explain it.
Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.
Romans 12:15 (NLT)
It’s great to be positive. It’s great to know the right scripture for every circumstance. But it’s better and more Christ-like to be able to relate to someone else’s pain. Many times we are quick to advise, to encourage, to speak faith in the face of difficulty. But Jesus didn’t come to earth in human flesh to give us only information – He came to give us the revelation of relationship. Without empathy, there is no foundation for relationship.
Empathy was even part of the prophecies in Isaiah 53 about Messiah given hundreds of years before Jesus wept. The writer of Hebrews makes it very clear.
14 Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin.
Hebrews 4:14-15 (NET)
Before Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus, the writer gives us a glimpse of the depth of empathy Jesus experienced.
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the people who had come with her weeping, he was intensely moved in spirit and greatly distressed.
John 11:33 (NET)
Are we moved by other’s pain, or do we jump right to the answers we think they need. If the world could be changed by answers that fit on a bumper sticker, it would be changed. Unfortunately, often we can’t empathize with another’s pain because we haven’t dealt with our own. When we have truly seen the grotesqueness of our own sin, pain and shame – that’s when the godly sorrow of repentance leads to the freedom of forgiveness.
A truly forgiven heart has space for empathy. A prideful, self-reliant heart only has space for surface layer advice. It’s great to be positive. It’s great to speak faith. But unless that is tempered with empathy you can casually walk right over people who are really hurting and never look back. In Luke 10, the story of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the levite avoided the hurting man on the side of the road. The unlikely hero of the story, “felt compassion for him” even before he helped him. It’s important to realize that this story is part of the answer to a question about eternal life. Jesus replied with a story of empathy.
Bumper sticker compassion is fleeting. Empathy has eternal consequences. The next time I am tempted to pull out the flash cards of easy answers, I hope to remember Jesus wept. To be like Jesus, I need more empathy. How about you?