Lesson 9: Compassion as Willingness to Suffer

Right from the beginning, I regarded compassion as more than being emotional about something. I thought it could be a guiding light in overcoming our divisions because it involves empathy that considers what the other person or group thinks.

It didn’t take long to realize the term is more complex. In the Bible, compassion not only considers but also responds to others’ needs. This often led to major changes that reached out to those previously regarded as outsiders.

And beyond that, the scripture presents the response as even being willing to suffer for others. Jesus’ Passion is proclaimed as suffering with and for sinners. Christian love is defined as giving yourself for another, even sacrificing your life if need be. The best recent example was the civil rights movement where Martin Luther King insisted participants discipline themselves to endure the suffering needed to overcome resistance. And of course, he believed doing that could make enemies friends.

This teaching is pretty much lost in the present time. Everything in our society is designed to overcome and avoid suffering. Everything is winning, not working together. Pastors are expected to preach sermons about Christ suffering for us, but those championing our voluntary suffering to help someone else are regarded as unhealthy.

This refusal to accept any kind of suffering might be the greatest obstacle to overcoming our social differences. If we refuse to see and feel the suffering of another group, there is no call to action. That is pretty apparent in the angry resistance to Critical Race Theory and the demonizing of LGBTQ people.

Modern technology enables us to overcome a lot of suffering. Care must be taken to avoid teaching suffering as a good in itself. However, the give and take of settling any disagreement involves some discomfort. Compromise demands loss on all sides. Some form of voluntary suffering is called for if it helps overcome the deep divisions in our society.

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