Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Empathy, as demonstrated by God

From Hebrews:
2:10 For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 2:11 For indeed he who makes holy and those being made holy all have the same origin, and so he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 2:12 saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” 2:13 Again he says, “I will be confident in him,” and again, “Here I am, with the children God has given me.” 2:14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), 2:15 and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. 2:16 For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants. 2:17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. 2:18 For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.
I'm pretty sure that this is the ultimate show of empathy. For God, being the infinite Creator of everything, including all of us, to make himself like us, and not just like us but indeed the lowest of us, so that he might fully share in our experience, so that he might completely rescue us and have mercy on us, is nothing short of... something. "Amazing" doesn't do it justice. His love for us demonstrated by his willingness to suffer for us is completely unlike us. And yet, he places his Spirit inside of us, and that Spirit gives us similar desires as him on our better days.

In this he has given us an example of how to do empathy. By incarnating ourselves into the life of another (as much as possible), we demonstrate a godlike willingness to share that person's experience. This is very hard to do. I expend great amounts of energy optimizing my own experience. To step out of my life and into the life of another, a life that has not been arranged for the way I like things, indeed a life that may involve a lot more suffering than my own, is almost impossible. If it were not for Jesus, I would probably not do it, especially not for a long time.

With Jesus, however, it is possible, and many faithful Christians before me have done it. I can draw strength from the examples of people like Mother Theresa, Jean Vanier, the staff of Word Made Flesh, and, most notably, my own friends. Though I believe it is possible to do incarnational empathy because of Jesus alone, I'm guessing that it's only possible to do it long-term and well if I do it together with a supportive community of fellow children of God.

Check out our pictures here from this week's VAP.

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