Spotlight 5/2022: Empathy makes the difference!
Empathy is more than pity. It shows interest in the neighbour, supports actively, and connects people. This is the conviction of District Apostle Kolb (USA). He describes four levels of empathy in his article.
How can we learn to live together in Christ? One aspect is learning to have empathy for one another. Empathy is a characteristic of God, epitomised in Jesus Christ, and is necessary to live as citizens in God’s kingdom.
Empathy is the ability to relate to another person’s feelings or condition vicariously, as if you have experienced it yourself; one who empathises suffers along with the one who feels the sensations directly. Only feeling sorry for a person automatically generates feelings of pity, which are not particularly helpful in situations where people are in distress. Empathy becomes the bridge that connects two people and creates space for more genuine healing, understanding, and compassion.
Empathy has four qualities:
- acknowledging the perspective of another person,
- avoiding judgement,
- recognising the feelings and emotions that the other person is carrying, and
- communicating these to them.
Empathy is feeling WITH people. It is a vulnerable choice for us to make because in order to connect with another, we have to take ourselves to a difficult place.
God teaches that His way is one of empathy, understanding, and compassion: “And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19: 33–34).
Here the concept of feeling with someone becomes evident in that God instructs the people to recall their own past experiences when considering how they will treat strangers in their land.
David also recognised the empathy of God in his life: “You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle; are they not in Your book?” (Psalm 56: 8). David feels that God recognises his sorrow and even carries his sadness: “[You] put my tears into Your bottle.”
Over and over, we see the empathetic nature of Jesus Christ revealed: “Therefore, when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled. And He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept” (John 11: 33–35).
This nature of Christ was reflected by the apostle’s teaching:
- “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12: 15).
- “… the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12: 25–26). This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other.
- “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13: 3).
Through these examples, we perceive the empathetic nature of God and the need for us to develop this nature in ourselves. Empathising with our neighbour in their condition will make a difference.