Bishop Desmond Tutu once wrote about the importance of having compassion for others, even those who are difficult to forgive and to show mercy to. He wrote:
When we are uncaring, when we lack compassion, when we are unforgiving, we will always pay the price for it. It is not, however, we alone who suffer. Our whole community suffers, and ultimately our whole world suffers.I got to thinking about this, and I realized something. It is in our very nature to default to compassion. We just deny it.
I don't often do word studies here, but I was reading Jurgen Moltmann's latest book The Spirit Of Hope, and in the course of his exploration of the concepts of compassion, he discussed the Hebrew word rachamim.
To put it bluntly, rachamim is compassion that goes so deep that the intestines tense up. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "That's kinda weird!" Let me explain.
The noun rachamim is feminine and points to the pain a mother feels at birth, the pains with which a new life is brought into the world.
Jurgen Moltmann puts it like this:
Rachamim is a feeling of being caught up by empathy and compassion… the creative feeling with which a new deed begins and a life is saved or comes to birth.Now this word isn't the only word that is used to denote compassion in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it is used 44 times and almost always denotes the kind of compassion that God has toward you and me, and that we ought to have for those who are in need.
Not to be outdone, the New Testament writers took the concept of rachamim when they wrote about compassion, using the word splaghnizomai, which means:
To be moved as to one's bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion.I know, I know... the word moved and bowels were really close in that last sentence. But stick with me.
In the ancient world, it was believed that the gut was the seat of mercy and pity. It was in the gut where you would feel the kind of deep compassion that leads you to mercy, forgiveness and empathy for others.
Matthew 9:36 reads like this:
When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.Jesus felt this feeling for the people who came to hear him. He felt compassion for them deep inside of himself.
You see, there's a feeling that you feel when you realize that someone is hurting, someone needs compassion.
There's a feeling that comes over you when you realize that forgiveness is the only way forward. There's a feeling that comes over you when you know that there are people who are suffering and you can do something about it.
And what do we say when we reflect on that feeling later? We say, "I just knew it... I could feel it in my... gut."
You and I are hardwired to feel this way. Because God imbued us with God's DNA, and this is the way that God feels toward us when we are lost, alone, wounded, struggling, stubborn, hopeless... in need of God.
When we lack compassion for those who are suffering... when we lack the willingness to forgive... when we deny our gut feelings because it might be difficult for us to act on them...
We deny our very essence, we deny who we really are...
Live into your truest self today and every day. Be reminded of the imprint of the Divine Image of God upon you.
And when you feel those gut feelings of compassion, mercy, forgiveness and empathy, don't ignore them because they might lead you to uncomfortable places... act on them. It might change the world.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.