Compassion – what is it? The dictionary definition tells us that it is a feeling of sorrow and pity for someone in trouble, e.g. compassionate leave – a special absence from work if we are bereaved.
Whatever compassion is, God seems to have an endless supply of it. We even declare this in our hymns. “Great is Thy faithfulness....Thy compassions they fail not.” There are dozens of references throughout the bible to compassion, and in all of them the feeling they convey to me is that compassion in the Godly sense is far more profound than in the dictionary definition.
It seems that compassion has a touch of mercy about it. So just as God's special love for His people in redeeming them from Egypt (Deuteronomy 13, 17 – 18) and caring for them in the wilderness became the guiding principle for their treatment of others, so our redemption through Christ and His daily care in our lives is the basis of the Christian life.
Derek Prince, just before he died, in one of his last broadcasts said he felt privileged to have been a father to thirty or so Jewish orphans. You could hear the weeping in his voice that God had permitted him late in life to experience deep compassion for these kids, and that in apparent contradiction to his reputation as a learned scholar and theologian.
Jesus Himself, immediately He was told of the murder of John the Baptist, sought to escape the crowds by boat so that He might grieve in private. But they pursued Him on foot from the towns and, when He landed, Jesus had compassion on them and He healed their sick. So, Jesus put aside His own need to grieve in order to attend to the needs of the people. Wow!
So, we are starting to get a sense of the profound nature of compassion. It is not merely feeling sorrow and pity for someone. It is identifying with them in their distress and feeling their pain and their need. God comes right into our soul and shows us where it hurts most.
In 2 Corinthians 1, 3 Paul says “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 in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives so also, through Christ, our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation.”
Do we, can we, enter into others' suffering and need, and thereby revolutionise our prayers for their salvation and healing?