Compassion is at the heart of God. We read in the scriptures that when Jesus saw the crowds, he was moved with compassion towards them, because they were harassed and helpless (Mat 9:36). The gospels are filled with Jesus showing compassion for the outcast, the forgotten, the poor, the sick and the oppressed.
As believers we aspire to embody the life of Jesus and so to also be filled with compassion. But true compassion is not a gentle, easy emotion. The Greek word used in the bible for the word compassion – splagchnizomai – literally means to “be moved in the internal organs” – to be moved so deeply by something that you feel it in the pit of your stomach.
Most of us know this feeling – whether it’s because we’ve received bad news about a friend, or something’s happened to a loved one. And we know this type of emotion is costly – it’s much more than pity, this emotion moves us so completely that we can physically feel it. We are grieved and compelled to respond. We are literally suffering with others.
And we are called to cast our net of compassion widely. To see each of us as our neighbour, as made in the very image of God. One of the positives of COVID-19 has been how it has pulled us deeply into compassion for those around the world, as we’ve heard stories and seen images of COVID-caused suffering around the world. It’s made us ask that distinctively human question “what if that was me or my family?”
But compassion, even in these circumstances, is still a choice. It’s a choice that necessarily comes at a cost – a cost of our own emotions, and a cost of action. And compassion doesn’t always come easy. We can be tempted to keep our circle of compassion close around us. Compassion can feel like a limited resource as it draws from our time, emotional energy and resources.
When we organised an online prayer meeting with Bangalore City Mission a few months ago, as they were in the peak of their COVID crisis, I must admit that a big part of me didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to have to engage firsthand with the harrowing experiences of Jonathan Sinclair and his team, knowing that I would unavoidably feel some of their pain. And I was right – it was hard, and it was emotional. You can’t be in a place like that without it changing you and giving you grief to carry.
But I needed to do it. It drew me closer to our brothers and sisters around the world, and was good for me, as it is for us all. As Tim Costello writes in his recent book The Cost of Compassion, “I believe that we were made for compassion. That to show compassion is to become more truly human, to discover a deep sense of purpose”. We follow in the footsteps of God in sharing in the burdens of others.
And when we do this, we see the power of compassion. It spurs us into action; compassion produces movement. Our hearts are the wellspring for life and in that wellspring lie the experiences of when we have connected and shared with the suffering of others. From hearts of compassion, God’s acts of mercy and love can flourish.
When we ask the leaders of our ministry partners about why they engage in serving their communities at such personal cost, compassion is always at the heart of their response.
As we interact with our partners and hear their stories, I am constantly struck by the cost of their compassion – as they dedicate (and risk) their lives to loving their neighbours like Jesus did. But, at the same time, I am inspired by the power of their compassion to transform lives and restore hope to individuals, families and entire communities.
I am also encouraged by the compassion of our supporters and I want to thank you so much for the solidarity and support you are showing our ministry partners as they face such challenging times as these.
I pray, as we grapple with the needs in the world right now, that we may look to God and that He might keep us safe, fill us up, and spur us on to continue sharing in His compassion for the outcast and forgotten.