sympathy

Here are my initial, unformed thoughts on something I’ve observed in the past week. I figure a blog is a good place to share this in the hope that others would add to or correct my first draft.

I have been struck by our cultural leaders’ lack of sympathy for the religious perspective. Last Sunday a panelist on every network’s news show raised the issue of religious freedom, and in every instance the other panelists and moderator ignored the point. Last night NPR’s Fresh Air asked a Supreme Court analyst if the court made any decisions in the last year regarding religion, and he rattled off three without mentioning the one that every religious person would point to first.

I understand why our leaders wouldn’t want to concede the point, but do they really not see what is happening? We are not dealing in hypotheticals. Christian entrepreneurs are being run out of business for not serving gay weddings. Our leaders may not agree with this Christian position, but why such a complete lack of sympathy for the suffering of another human being?

Maybe it’s hard to be sympathetic when you’re winning (I am a fan of Cleveland sports teams, so this is a shot in the dark). When I was a kid, we didn’t have much sympathy for the “queer” guy in our town either. We knew he was different, and we didn’t much care to learn his story or what was going on with him.

So here’s my thought. It may be difficult to pull off, but the best time to practice sympathy is when we don’t feel we need to. When we feel we have won, that is the precise moment we must reach down to those who know they have lost. How do they feel? What can we do to help them, to ease their burden? When we resist the pressure to pile on, we respect them as fellow image bearers of God and pull them in close. Sympathy is like praise. It means the most when it’s given by someone who doesn’t have to.

What can we do with the disregard we feel toward us? We can’t make others feel compassion, but we can use that as fuel to sympathize with those who are worse off. It’s easy to blame or blow off their plight, but wouldn’t it be better to put ourselves in their shoes? How does the world look from where they stand? How can we care for them? When we tend to the needs of those below us, we’ll be less distressed about what’s happening above.

We’ll also be imitating God, who from the highest throne “has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).

Image by in pastel. Used by permission. Sourced via flickr.

2 Comments

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  1. I agree, Mike. The list of those religious-related businesses and organizations who will suffer have not been given much consideration. Even the government will stand to suffer, since they rely on many faith-based groups to lead and assist charitable causes and relief efforts.
    I have been wrestling with feeling the need for sympathy myself, especially since those who I had thought might commiserate with me on this issue were shockingly part of the coalition of frenzied rainbow flag wavers. And, I have also been feeling an overwhelming sense of sympathy for God, although I’m sure he doesn’t need it.
    Your point is well taken. I makes sense then that if we show genuine sympathy for others it will not only be an act of obedience to God, but it will also take our mind off feeling hurt or victimized ourselves….as long as we are sincere, and don’t have the attitude of, “Look at me, I’m being more sympathetic than you are.”
    By the way, Mike. The Cavs did make it to the finals this year….. and, the Indians have won 4 straight are only 3 games behind the Tigers now, so I am not feeling THAT much sympathy for you.
    -Ron Hagedorn

  2. Such a good post, right up until the end. We haven’t won anything in my lifetime. This is why we celebrated this week when our pitcher almost threw a no-hitter. That’s close enough for Cleveland.

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