How do you practice empathy?

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends,

The dictionary defines empathy as, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

The Scriptures speak of this in profound terms. For instance, Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” This, of course, requires understanding another’s feelings, and sharing in them.

Similarly, consider the Golden Rule, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” I believe that most of us want to share our successes and find solidarity in our struggles.

I think most moving is the way Jesus entered into the mourning of the death of Lazarus. We read in John 11:

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept.

I find this remarkable for so many reasons. Commentators offer many explanations for his weeping. Surely it has cosmic implications - Jesus weeps over how sin has broken the world into pieces. But I believe it also has neighborly significance - Jesus is grieved to see the deep sorrow felt by Lazarus’ family and community.


  • What stories or verses in the Scriptures illustrate empathy for you?
  • What barriers do you find to being empathetic?
  • How do you practice empathy?
  • What implications are there for you that we serve a God who weeps with us?

(Tabitha Gallman) #2

I love this topic of empathy, probably because I feel this is an area that I have a lot of growing to do within. I admit that it’s easy to feel the pain of someone else when you yourself have felt similar pain, but what if the type of suffering or pain is unfamiliar? That’s when I struggle to demonstrate empathy. It would make sense @CarsonWeitnauer that the Golden Rule would provide that reason to practice empathy when it’s harder to understand the pain of someone else.

In my Bible I have notes and many passages highlighted and circled (hopefully for my children to keep and treasure one day and to share with their children). The one passage I have highlighted for empathy is Hebrews 2:18 which reads:

“Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Empathy is the crux, I believe, for the Christian lifestyle, so if the world could practice more empathy - Wow! imagine how the world would be a better place.

Not sure if this is a stretch or not, but I have a note in my Bible in 2 Corinthians that reads: “Compassion means to suffer with.” and II Cor. 1:3-4 highlighted:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

(Matt Western) #3

I listened to the third message in a series from Andy Stanley this morning on the way to work, which really spoke to me about this area. The series is about Grace, " The Unsettling Solution for Just About Everything", and this particular message he spoke on Matthew 7:3-5, where Jesus said in the sermon on the mount:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I suppose to consider what barriers there are to showing empathy I can think of

  • my own tenancy to not show grace, but being judgmental: as shown clearly in the Matthew passage above
  • I have lost sight in that moment of what Christ has done for me, and how much I have been forgiven, and how much I should be prepared to step into another’s shoes to show empathy.

Another passage that I can think of is the parable of the unforgiving debtor in Matthew 18:21-35, where the servant owed the King an enormous debt which he could never pay in his lifetime. The King had mercy on him and forgave the debt. The servant then turned around to his fellow servant that owed him a few hundred dollars, and instead of showing the same mercy, threw him into prison until he could pay all that he owed.

Jesus reached towards and showed love and grace to sinners, tax-collectors and prostitutes. Many times in the Gospels Jesus confronted the religious elite of the day and had very strong words for them. The passage in Matthew 23:13-39 is full on, and a big reality check to see if I have any of these things in my life. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, just like the Pharisees.

Does this mean we should go around looking for and judging hypocrites? No of course not, because of the Matthew 7:3-5 passage where we have many issues in our own lives to deal with. God is the only righteous judge, not me.

How does this all help from a practical point of view? I try to remember every day when learning to show empathy that this person with whom I’m speaking to is either a brother or sister in Christ, therefore I should show love to them, or if this person is not yet part of the family of God, then I show show equally the love of Jesus to them in order to point them to Jesus.

In relation to the last question: the implications of serving a God who weeps. I liked John Lennox ask a simple new question in relation to ‘Why is there suffering in the world?’. He discussed many things, and had many questions that were unanswered. His new question to ponder is ‘What is God doing on a cross, dying at the hands of his creation?’ It’s astonishing to think of - Jesus died for us - talk about Love and undeserved Grace!!

I like the ‘Holiness’ video that the Bible Project has done - God’s love and holiness, instead of consuming us, purifies us through Jesus.

I hope this is helpful - I’m trying each and every day to learn empathy, and show Jesus’ love to others.