Mankind has been given a trait by God that allows us to identify with one another’s feelings and emotions; it is called “empathy.” It is defined by Webster as, “The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” In other words, empathy allows us to be able to understand and feel the difficulties and emotions of another, even though we may not be going through those things ourselves. This trait is very important to the Christian on many different levels.
The empathy of Christ. When the Word came to this earth in the form of Jesus Christ, he experienced life from man’s perspective. Doing so gave him the ability to understand and identify with man’s struggles, emotions, and trials. It is written, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). In order for our Lord to be able to be our high priest, he had to understand man from the perspective of humanity (Heb. 5:1-9). It does not mean that he had to experience everything man encounters, because he was without sin; but that he had the ability to comprehend mankind’s troubles, understand his cares and grief, have compassion on his soul, and love him to the point of death. Our Lord has the ability to identify with mankind, because he was a part of mankind; thus we have a high priest who, with understanding and compassion, gives us the means to come boldly before God seeking his mercy and finding his grace (Heb. 4:16).
The empathy of Christians. The ability of Christians to empathize is just as important as it was for our Lord. As Christians we are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), look out for the needs of others (Phi. 2:4), and love one another as God has loved us (1 John 4:11). In order to do this, we have to be able to empathize. Just as the ability to empathize did not mean the Lord had to experience every possible action and emotion, so it does not require us to have been through everything another has experienced. As Christians, we should not be those who are constantly remarking that we know how someone else feels, or that we’ve been through something just like their situation. Such is often seen as being condescending and the expression of one-upmanship. Instead we are to be those who listen to the problems of our brethren, seek to understand their situation, and give guidance and consolation from God’s Word to their predicament. The ability to empathize is one of the greatest sources of comfort for people in times of trouble.
Empathy is also important for Christians when dealing with those outside of Christ. Christians must remember what it was like to be on the other side of the fence. The Christian will not be effective in proclaiming the values of Christianity to others by being arrogant and prideful. By honestly and sincerely showing the willingness to empathize with those outside of Christ, the Christian can open doors of communication to promote a loving desire for the eternal security of their souls.
Unfortunately, some do not see the need for empathy. Paul wrote about some in the church who would be “without natural affection” (2 Tim. 3:3). This is not a statement pertaining to some perverse lifestyle, but is instead a reference to their inability to relate to those around them. Such an individual is never understanding or patient with others, but instead is quick to call upon others to “get over” whatever is ailing them, and quick to lay the fault of any problem at the feet of the recipient. The actions of such individuals do great harm for the cause of Christ, because they do not exhibit the love, compassion, and empathy the Lord patterned in his life.
The power of empathy should not be overlooked. We see its value in the Master we serve. We see its necessity in the help we seek from others. Therefore, let us be those servants of Christ who take his example and let it shine forth in our own lives; that our reputation before God and man will be one of truth, honesty, compassion, and love.