by K.W. Leslie, 27 May

The ancients didn’t believe we feel emotions with, and in, our hearts. That’d be the medievals.

The ancients believed thought, logic, and wisdom emanated from the heart. Emotion came from the intestines. Despite the medievals reassigning it to the heart, the idea still managed to trickle down to our culture: People have a “gut reaction” or “visceral reaction” to various things, which means they’re reacting without thinking. It’s pure irrational emotion. And some of ’em have learned to trust their guts, ’cause they said bye-bye to logic long ago. But enough about them.

Some gut reactions are good ones. Even fruitful ones. When we truly love others—love our fellow Christians, love our neighbors, love our enemies—when we see them suffering we’re gonna feel empathy towards them. We’re gonna take pity. We're gonna have compassion.

You know, like Jesus does when he sees the needy. Here’s some examples from Matthew.

Matthew 9.36 KWL
Seeing the crowds, Jesus felt for them, because they were beaten down and thrown out,
like sheep which have no pastor.
Matthew 14.14 KWL
Coming out, Jesus saw many crowds, felt for them, and ministered to their sick.
Matthew 15.32 KWL
Summoning his students, Jesus told them, “I feel for the crowd,
because they stayed with me three days and have nothing they could eat.
I don’t want to release those who were fasting; they might faint on the road.”
Matthew 20.34 KWL
Jesus, feeling for them, grasped their eyes and they quickly received sight. They followed him.

The word I translate “felt for them” is σπλαγχνίζομαι/splanghnídzome, which literally means “gutted.” Not in the sense of having one’s guts pulled out, like that one scene in Braveheart; y’ever feel so bad for someone, it feels like you were punched there? Kinda like that.

Nowadays people talk about compassion as “having a bleeding heart”—dipping back into the medieval idea. But the bleeding heart idea actually comes from Jesus. Because his heart was pierced for our transgressions Is 53.5 —and when that one Roman stabbed him in the heart, Jn 19.34 the prophecy got fulfilled rather literally. Roman Catholics like to depict Jesus’s sacred, bleeding heart because it represents his love and compassion for us and for the lost. And those who like to mock others for their “bleeding hearts”—well, it just reveals their own fruitlessness. Even if we don’t agree on how to solve the needy’s problems, shouldn’t we have some empathy for those whom Christ Jesus loves?

So yeah, since empathy is an effect of love, empathy like love is a fruit of the Spirit. If you lack empathy you lack love. If you want empathy, ask the Spirit! He’ll help develop it in you.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

We’re commanded to be empathetic. When the LORD ordered the Hebrews to love their neighbors as themselves, Lv 19.18 he meant for them to put themselves in their neighbors’ shoes, to look at things through their neighbors’ eyes.

The context of this verse is the LORD forbidding revenge. May as well quote it:

Leviticus 19.18 KWL
“Don’t avenge. Don’t cling to anger against your people’s children.
Love your fellow Hebrew like yourself. I’m the LORD.”

Revenge is what people do when they lack empathy. They feel someone wronged, insulted, dismissed, slighted, or robbed them. They want satisfaction. Not tit-for-tat; not to simply get back what they feel was taken from them. Revenge wants to hurt someone—and justify itself by calling it “justice.”

But did that other person intentionally wrong us? Half the time, no. Most of the time, it’s nothing personal; they’re not trying to wrong us specifically; they’d wrong anybody, because they’re selfish jerks like that. They don’t love anyone as themselves.

If everyone took revenge for every slight we experience, society would be nothing but duels, feuds, and war. The LORD wants to kill that problem before it grows. Don’t take revenge. Don’t be selfish either. Love your neighbor. Use yourself as a comparison: You’d do this and that for yourself, so do the same for others. You’d appreciate it if people did this and that for you, so do for them. Be generous. Be kind. Don’t be a dick.

When love our neighbors as yourselves, and we see people suffering, it oughta make us feel for them. We should want to help. Not suppress our consciences by inventing good karmic reasons for why they oughta suffer: “They did it to themselves. They shoulda known better. They need to get themselves out of their own mess. They deserve it for being dumb or lesser or unworthy”—and all the other Darwinist justifications for apathy and lovelessness. Is this how Jesus thinks? Absolutely not, and his followers aren’t true followers when we adopt a different attitude towards the needy than our Lord.

For Mammonists, empathy is a struggle because they fear it’ll cost them money. (If not them personally, they fret it’ll cost tax dollars; as if their tax dollars are currently funding anything better.) And y’know, often it will cost. And we need to get over that. We invest our money in what we love most, and if that’s not God’s kingdom we aren’t fit to enter it.

In Jesus’s good Samaritan story, the Samaritan put up his own money to care for an assault victim he just found on the road. That, Jesus said, is loving one’s neighbor—and go and do likewise. He didn’t make this optional: If he’s our Lord, that’s our mandate. Be compassionate. Go out of our way to help the needy. Quit pretending to be Christian, and be Jesus for a lost and hurting world. And it starts by adopting how he feels for others.