Compassion is Coupled with Action
Compassion is where love meets mercy and overflows into physical manifestations of grace.
What is compassion? A few months ago, a friend posed that question to me, and I did not have an answer. I am awful at giving definitions for words. I could identify compassion in a heartbeat if I saw it, I could list a thousand and one examples of it, I could tell you how it feels to experience compassion, but I could not define. It was that question that eventually sparked my study of the book of Lamentations, this series of posts, and an index card that I now keep tucked away inside of my Bible with those words written on it.
While I still believe that compassion is an infinite something that will always defy definition, that was the answer I ultimately settled on. Someone far more eloquent than me could have undoubtedly defined it better, but that was the simple answer I came to after reading Lamentations, looking at Jesus’ moments of expressed compassion, and some thinking and praying of my own.
Love Meets Mercy
Love and mercy. Two infinite somethings in their own right, but when they are coupled together, they create something even more beautiful than just the sum of two parts. They get to the essence of what compassion is. Once again, I cannot even pretend to be able to give any good, working definition of those words, but we have all experienced them in our own lives. We know what they look like. They come in many different forms, but always deliver the same, sweet comfort that could only originate from God Himself.
They are capable of functioning separately—you can have mercy without having love and have love without having mercy—but it is when they come together, when you find mercy compelled by undying, unconditional love, that compassion is born.
Mercy chooses not to bring down punishment on an object deserving of wrath, even though it has every right to do so. It can be driven by just about any motivation under the sun, selfish or selfless as they may be, but it is set apart when its motivation is love. Love gives mercy a purpose that no other motivation can. Love drives a person to show mercy for the sake of the object deserving of wrath. It seeks what is in the best interest of the object and actively works to bring that about. Mercy is the moment; love the follow through. When they meet, compassion happens.
Overflows Into Physical Manifestations of Grace
If love and mercy are what compassion is, then physical manifestations of grace is what it does. All throughout the Gospels, the phrase “and He had compassion on them” pops up, but never in isolation. It is always accompanied by some action, some teaching, some miracle. Christ never simply feels bad for someone and then carries on with His day. He stops and intervenes in the situation. That is what differentiates between compassion and mere pity. Pity says “Oh, that’s unfortunate.” Compassion asks, “What can I do to make it better?”
It does not stop at the door of daydreaming or balk at the window of wishful thinking. It steps out into reality and extends a helping hand. It involves itself in the dirt and pain of the situation. Not because the person receiving it is worthy of it, but because its motivation is firmly founded in love and mercy.
Compassion cannot help itself but to help others. When a heart is truly filled with those two infinite somethings, it will eventually run out of room, the floodgates will give way, and it will run over into the nearest, lowest point: the person that needs it most. The beauty behind this is that once that basin has been filled, it will then turn outwards and fill the desperately depleted reservoirs around it. In this way, the compassion of Christ is spread throughout the world.
Christ’s infinite sacrifice, the ultimate point of compassion, acts as the source from which all of these other actions flow. He had compassion on us while we were still sinners so that, today, we might have compassion on others. He fills us with His love and mercy every single day and our cups runneth over. So let us never be afraid to take that step and show compassion to those around us that need it. The weak, tired, frail, often-upset world around us is crying out for it. Let us never lose hope because of God’s compassion on us, but let us let that compassion move us to action thereby replicating the pattern Christ set out for us.
With the love and compassion of Jesus,
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
Colossians 3:12 NIV