Christianity 201

October 20, 2022

From a Polarized Church to Empathy and Compassion

by Clarke Dixon

We live in days of polarization. Instead of facing life side by side, we take sides. Instead of sitting with, we stand against.

It has been said that Job’s friends had great empathy and compassion for Job…until they opened their mouths. In the midst of terrible suffering, Job’s friends gathered to comfort him, spending seven days in silence. But then they started speaking. How did that go? We will let Job speak from his experience:

Then Job spoke again:
“How long will you torture me?
How long will you try to crush me with your words?
You have already insulted me ten times.
You should be ashamed of treating me so badly.

Job 19:1-3 (NLT)

Job’s friends failed in empathy and compassion. Our world, and even the Christian church, seems to be failing in empathy and compassion as we stand against one another instead of sitting together, as we take sides instead of facing life side by side.

Instead of a polarized faith tradition we want to be an empathetic and compassionate community of faith but there are two roadblocks that get in the way.

First, certitude gets in the way of becoming an empathetic and compassionate community.

Job’s three friends were there to comfort him but once they all start talking it went downhill and descended into chapter after chapter of argument. The problem is, they were all sure they were right. It can feel like we live in an era of Job chapters 3-37, everyone being so sure they are right.

We see a similar kind of certitude in Saul of Tarsus. He was so sure that the Jesus movement needed to be stamped out, that the Jesus followers needed to be imprisoned, or killed. To quote Brian Zhand:

Saul was furiously enraged because he was certain that he was right and that the Christians were wrong. Biblical certainty was the drug of choice for this young Pharisee, but it only made him mean. Certitude can be an incubator for cruelty. Perceived infallibility can lead to brutality.

Brian Zhand from the book “When Everything is on Fire.”

Zhand goes on to describe how in meeting Jesus, Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle and moved from certitude as the top quality of his faith, to love. Can we make that same move? If so we have a chance at a world with less polarization and more empathy and compassion.

Second, the need to win every argument gets in the way of becoming an empathetic and compassionate community.

At no point in all the arguing back and forth in the Book of Job does anyone say to anyone else, “good point,” or “maybe I need to think about that more” or “well maybe we don’t need to solve it today.” Rather, the tone is “I know better.” Each needs to win.

What could have been a conversation, a good conversation and an important conversation about suffering and the place of righteousness in suffering, ended up being an argument. Job chapters 3-37 are not really a record of a conversation between, but rather the record of a series of lectures for, or worse, preaching at.

Conversation requires listening. Listening requires openness and a teachable spirit. A teachable spirit requires the ability to lose an argument.

Can we move from arguments to conversations? If so we have a chance at moving from a polarized world to a more empathetic and compassionate one.

Today we have continued our series called “What Kind of Church” drawing from the cultural statements of Open Table Communities. What kind of church would Jesus himself feel at home in? What kind of church “gets” Jesus? What kind of church do we want to be?

A church with…

A Culture of Empathy and Compassion
We nurture relationships and gatherings where being with people in the midst of their journey, is more important than being right or being in control. We encourage empathetic listening and compassion for each person’s unique journey and story, including our own.

Open Table Communities

Clark Dixon is a Canadian pastor. His condensed sermons can be read at Thinking Through Scripture, and also appear here most Thursdays.

1 Comment »

  1. I agree that we need to be empathetic, as well as people who listen. Jesus met the woman caught in adultery where she was. She knew she was condemned… But Jesus stunned the accusers by announcing “neither do I condemn you..”
    Unfortunately, this is where we (the Church) often stop the conversation. In our attempt at empathy and discussion, we often forget truth. Instead of leading others to healing, we often rather send them away feeling better about themselves. We affirm their behavior.
    And in this particular story, many leave out the second part of what Jesus said to the woman….”Go and sin no more”. And I think that there’s two extremes that indict the Church; two ends of a spectrum if you will..
    On the one side, you have those, like the Westboro Baptist folks whose CHURCH website ACTUALLY says, “God hates f**s” (look it up), and they sit on the side of the road, or go to funerals of soldiers or known homosexuals saying “You’re going to Hell!, God hates you!” They don’t show the love of mercy of God.
    On the other side, are those who just take the line that “God loves you” and “wants to be part of your “journey” or “story”. They promote this hipster type Jesus who just loves and affirms anything without demanding repentance or commitment to Him.. One side causes men to go to Hell mad at God, the other goes to Hell thinking God is their “buddy”, and that He is ok with all they’re doing.
    The problem is that BOTH sides don’t lead men to the TRUTH!
    Empathy is fine… As long as it is not the expense of truth! Love, if it’s REALLY love, tells the truth!
    God doesn’t need us to defend Him… But He does expect us to share His word.. and not out of context either.. We MUST, if we are worth our salt as believers, share the FULL counsel of God! Half truth is the greatest disservice to the lost that the Church can do… And we will give an account!

    Comment by Paul Martin — October 21, 2022 @ 7:24 am | Reply

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