Created to be Empathetic

— Andy Wade —

In my last post, Outrospection, I suggested that group introspection, which would include religious, national, political, racial, etc., can easily lead to a lack of empathy for those outside our group. Perusing the RSAnimate site I stumbled upon a presentation that affirms that suspicion but also claims that we are all empathetic by nature and that our penchant toward violence, war, greed, and the like are actually caused by limiting our innate ability to see outside ourselves (whether as individuals or a group).

empathy.4I found this concept fascinating as I’m exploring the whole area of flourishing. If, as Jews, Muslims, and Christians believe, we are created in the image of God, then it makes perfect sense that empathy would be our natural orientation. In fact “the Fall” could be seen as the rebellion of failing to empathize with our Creator, creating an unnatural boundary in our relationship with God which, in turn, leds to greed, fear, and eventually an empathetic break between man and woman (humans) and creation.

In Christ we rediscover both the lavish love of God and our call to enter into that love for God and for one another – empathy restored:

“… in him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” Col. 1:19-20.

“…for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Gal. 3:26-28.

“…So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Mt. 5:23-24.

“…From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Cor. 5:16-20.

Empathy is core to Imago Dei (we are created in God’s image).

  • “God so loved the world…” Jn. 3:16.
  • “Jesus wept” Lk. 19:41, Jn. 11:35.
  • Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die.  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Rom. 5:7-8.
  • “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Mt. 22:37-40.

In Jesus, God is restoring all creation to its original beauty and purpose. Our purpose is to participate in the flourishing of all life through empathetic connections whose root is love and whose source is God. This core is so important because, without it, our efforts to “do good” in the world are sourced in some other motivation. Before we can unleash the imagination, coming up with creative means to address the challenges in our world, we must connect to the empathetic heart of God. I believe many of our well-intended efforts produce unhealthy and unwanted effects precisely because our primary motivation has failed to connect to Imago Dei.

Take a look at this RSAnimate presentation. As you watch, ask yourself:

  1. How does my faith impact my ability to empathize with others?
  2. How does my worshiping community unleash my/our ability to be empathetic toward those outside my/our tribe?
  3. How does my worshiping community limit my/our ability to be empathetic toward those outside my/our tribe?
  4. Who are the people I have difficulty having empathy for? What are the root causes in me that limit my ability to love them?