This afternoon about 5pm I was putting together some thoughts about compassion, when I got a call from a friend in an unexpected jam, asking me to take care of something critical before 6pm. Time to put feet where my brain was! And then, a few minutes ago, someone else offered to help with something that I needed to take care of. It made me realize again how blessed I am that we take care of each other.
We see compassion and its related ideas all through Scripture, very often in a relationship to justice. At the very beginning of humanity, we find that God's reaction to Adam and Eve's disobedience was tempered by compassion and His love for them. He could have followed through on His clear statement that this particular infraction carried a death sentence, wiped them out and started over. Instead, He gave them a reprieve for a long life.
The next time we see this two-sided coin is with the very next generation. Again, there is a question of justice; God's sadness at the murder of Abel brought both banishment and mercy to Cain, who had been totally without mercy in his anger. We see it with Noah, when God pronounced judgment on a fatally sinful generation but called Noah and his family to a work of compassion. We find here both God's compassion to Noah, and a calling to Noah to show compassion to the animals.
We find in the Ten Commandments, following the injunction to have "no other gods" this promise: ". but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments." (Exodus 20:6) From his same formational time, we find: "Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:18) . This is built into the relationship between God and His people: He will show mercy; we are to love Him, we are to keep His commandments; we are to show mercy, and to love our neighbors--because He is God.
Most religious and cultural traditions have some form of requirement to care about others. Few of them have a god who cares about them, and even fewer have gods who want to be loved. Feared, yes; but loved? And yet, throughout God's relationship with humanity, there is always the reminders that He cares about His people; and He commands us to love Him and love His people. Even within the cultures and nations that have some experience of and knowledge of God, we have too often seen lack of caring, hostility and even murder.
Sometimes the hardest people to love are the ones right under our noses, those we know best. But coupled with the commands to love are the demands for righteousness. Sometimes it means the oldfashioned suggestion to "love the sinner but hate the sin." This is not a bad idea; certainly healthier than being so nice that we get swept up into the sin.
We also need to remember that we are part of a worldwide family, and watch for opportunities to share God's love and fellowship with people from different places, and in different places. Several years ago, I was able to attend a C.S.Lewis seminar in London, with people from all over the world. One participant introduced himself as having been a sponsored child in Hong Kong, and is now, if I recall correctly, a preacher himself. Compassion has many faces--we should see it in all of God's children--and in our own mirror.