The data are clear that we live in a society that is increasingly short of compassion. –Walter Brueggemann, Gift and Task, page 216.
Facebook often gives a false sense of what it means to be a compassionate person, summarized by the idea of tokenism. In other words, it gives the false sense that if I have said, “thoughts and prayers” to someone I have fulfilled my loving obligation to my neighbor. However, when you read what the Bible says about compassion, it becomes very clear that FB sentimentality bears no resemblance to the compassion of Christ. For example:
- In the story of the Samaritan, Luke 10, a man sees a person who has been beaten, robbed, and left to die by the side of the road. The man is moved by compassion and takes the wounded traveler to an inn where he can receive aid. No “thoughts and prayers” here!
- Paul told the Philippians that the longed for them in the way that Christ would, Philippians 1:8. This longing was proven by the fact that Paul actually went to Philippi and suffered imprisonment because of his compassion and commitment to them.
- James told his readers that Christ is “full of mercy and very compassionate,” James 5:11. This compassion was marked by Jesus’ willing trip to the cross, not by some sentimental pap on Facebook.
- The opposite of compassion is to turn one’s back on another person in a time of need. The Greek word literally means to “close the bowels,” bowels referring to the place where we experience compassionate feelings for another person.
An examination of the use of “compassion” in the New Testament shows an idea that is marked by some sort of behavior – Jesus’ going to the cross, for example. In compassion there is an identification with the object of one’s compassion. The Latin root of our word “compassion” means to “suffer with” another person. In other words it is NOT Facebook detachment in which you send a post and then consider your obligation to the other done.
Compassion is a demonstrated word. It is effective, in some way. It is not insipid and mealy-mouthed like saying “my thoughts are with you.” “Thoughts” accomplish nothing. A warm pie or a hospital visit or a handwritten greeting card or the offer of transportation or to clean your home or to walk your dog or to sit by your bed and pray for you or just to sit in silence are all excellent examples of what happens when you feel the compassion of Christ.
Facebook and other forms of social media have deluded us into believing that if we sent someone a 30-second post from Facebook that we have fulfilled the calling of Christ to be compassionate people. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Compassion puts legs to the concern we feel for another person.