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Trying Compassion in a Less-than-Compassionate Culture

Compassion is that secondary emotion that Paul left off of his famous list in 1 Corinthians 13. He goes through all these other examples of what love is and what love looks like, but he fails to mention the common derivative of love: compassion. Compassion is the outward expression or action of an inward concern for the condition or problem of another. Sounds vaguely familiar to that four-letter “L” word. But you already know what compassion is, so let’s get to the meat of the issue here.

We as human beings, specifically God-believing human beings, are driven by the pursuit of compassion in our lives and the lives of those surrounding ours, the circles of interaction that define how we live socially. In an ideal world, compassion would be the defining characteristic of how human beings dealt with one another about all topics and issues. Disagreements would be handled with compassion with one another rather than heated, emotional backlash. Trade between parties would not be a competition to see who can “win” the trade when the dust settles, but rather how the greatest common good can come out of this trade of goods. But how would this look in basic human interactions?

Having trouble finishing an assignment by that due date? That’s fine, we understand that stuff happens. Tire popped because of an unknown alien substance buried in it? Sorry that happened to you, please let us help you get through that. Haven’t eaten in a few days? Here, let us help you be sure you have a meal despite the cultural perception of people living in homelessness and poverty.

Why do all of these examples sound so foreign when that peculiar reading voice in your head says them? Because we don’t live in that ideal world. We don’t live in a world where compassion is the ruling order of social interactions between people; rather, we live in the iPhone-Starbucks society where we want another person to give us our Pumpkin Spice Latte (it’s that time of year again) with as little shared human interaction as possible by showing them our special payment barcode on our iPhone. If the capacity for compassion hinges on basic human interaction, then we’ve cut off the root of possibility by hacking away even the simplest of real interaction between people…paying for stuff.

Don’t get me confused here. I’m not bashing the technological advances of the 21st century. I love my iPhone and am continuously amazed at the influence it has in my life, both positively and negatively. And I’m sure that if I actually drank coffee, I’d try the now (in)famous PSL at least once by this point.

What I am getting at is our constant desire for compassion in society around us without understanding that this is a less-than compassionate world by self-design of us in it. And we should be expecting that! Jesus told us that the world would be a strange place full of contempt for the goals of Christians since that same world hated him for preaching it first (John 15).

Why then do we still so strongly seek compassion in our lives and the lives of those around us?

Because it is right to do so. We don’t live in that ideal world and instead live in one in which the cultural understanding of people living in poverty frames how we interact with such people rather than their place as another equal person. We don’t live in that ideal world and instead live in one in which the misfortune of a blown tire is worthy of a few yells and honked horns because you’ve held up traffic rather people offering to help you solve the misfortune some random sharp object has caused you.

But because Christians get just the tiniest peak behind the veil, we know that compassion can undergird everything we do in our society.

This world may be a less-than-compassionate place and may not change anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean that we have to play by those rules. If we truly wish to see such laws of compassion engrained in our social interactions with fellow people, then let the Christian community take up this practice in earnest! Only through the active choice of compassion can such practices take hold and become more commonplace.

Society may be less-than-compassionate, but that doesn’t mean that we as individuals can’t be an exception to the rule. And how else is society changed than by the steady presence of those exceptions challenging the norm?

Josh Godwin

There a handful of things in this life I truly love: my God, my wife, my dog, my town, my Cheerwine. I also love ministering with teenagers to help them realize God's love and everything God made them to be.

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