How Christian Compassion Often Falls Short

I preached a really difficult passage yesterday at my fantastic church. We are preaching through Lamentations and I got to preach the second Lament. The chapter speaks a lot to sin, suffering, God’s wrath, and man’s response. There was one thing God really spoke to me about in my prep time that simply couldn’t make it into the sermon so I thought I would address it here.

Christians can be an extremely compassionate bunch. Thankfully, I have witnessed great acts of compassion from people in my current church and from experiences with Christians in many places. I truly don’t believe there is a more compassionate people in the world than evangelical Christians.

With that said, I have noticed a disturbing trend among Christians. On a consistent basis I believe our compassion is falling short.

In Lamentations 2, Jeremiah is a weeping wreck over the suffering over his people. This isn’t because something unjust is happening, but because he knew it was the sin of his own people that brought on their suffering. He knew that Israel was getting exactly what they deserved, yet he was still a weeping mess over how his people were suffering.

How is it that Christian compassion often falls short today? We are very quick to show compassion when people have been unjustly wronged and sinned against. We are fantastic at showing compassion in these times.

Where I believe Christians today can often times fall short of showing true Christ-like compassion is when people are suffering due to their own sins and choices. It is rather easy to show compassion to people that are suffering and haven’t done anything wrong themselves. It is a lot harder to show compassion to people who brought on their own suffering with sin and bad choices.

Where do I see this in Christianity today? One example would be the poor. When I talk with Christians today there is a disturbing trend to look down at the poor with the attitude that “they did it to themselves.” Somehow, many Christians think that is reason enough to not show compassion towards them.

The Prophet Jeremiah would have nothing to do with this type of attitude. For him it didn’t matter why his people were suffering. He loved his people and his compassion wasn’t bound on the circumstances that got his people where they were.

Thankfully, Jesus approaches it the same way Jeremiah does. All of us were at one time enemies of God, deserving of wrath, and we got that way because of sins we chose. We put ourselves in that situation. Yet, while we were still sinners Christ died for us. There isn’t a person on the planet undeserving of hell because of their sin. Like some of the poor, “we did it to ourselves.” Yet, that did not stop Jesus from compassion and bearing the wrath of God on our behalf.

Christians, let’s not allow our compassion to fall short. When people are suffering, hurting, and in need the first question shouldn’t be, “How did you get here?” The first question should be, “How can I help?”

9 thoughts on “How Christian Compassion Often Falls Short

    • I don’t think that passage or any other like it negates what I am saying.

      I am not saying, “Therefore, give hand outs irregardless of their situation.”

      Showing compassion doesn’t mean not using any wisdom. It does mean our first question ought to be how we can help. How we help will depend on the person and the situation of course.

      The problem I am seeing is having the attitude of, “How did you get there? Oh, primarily by bad choices. Well, make better choices and help yourself.”

      • So how does one find out a person’s situation without asking “How did you get there?” And isn’t 2 Thess 3:10 basically assuming that you have to ask those type of questions from the start?

        That said, that doesn’t mean we can’t offer some wisdom and even material help to someone who may be in trouble because of their own foolish choices… but we will only do more damage to them if we don’t ask those questions. Depending on the situation, “How did you get there?” should be closely tied to “How can I help?”.

        Most importantly, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions based on circumstances. I think this is the biggest struggle for the Christian church when it comes to dealing with the poor… we see the circumstance, we know what it “usually” takes to get into that situation (foolish choices) and we assume based on our stereotype that it is true of this particular person in front of us.

        • Darius,

          I never said we don’t ask those questions, we must. Tim Keller does a good job with this… Yes, we have to “let mercy limit mercy.”

          The problem is, even when we do find out that people have totally gotten themselves in those situations are question still doesn’t answer… We are still seeking to help them. That doesn’t mean give them a hand out, but it does mean help them get on their feet and share wisdom with them…. and it includes slowly walking alongside them.

          You are right in your assessment about the biggest struggle. Tim Keller notes though that usually the poor are poor for a mixture of reasons including: circumstances outside of their control, sins committed against them, and bad choices and sins they commit. When I was doing social work I found this to be true as well.

          Yet, even when they primarily do it to themselves. That doesn’t mean we aren’t first asking. “How can I help?”

          Again, I think the gospel dictates that we seek to help the person and show compassion no matter what got them in their situation… But, understanding what did get them there does in fact speak into what our help looks like. As you said, we have to stop assuming we know what got them there and first ask how we can help.

        • That’s a great clarification, Matt, on how you define “help.”. I agree… no matter what, we will “help” them. At times, that help may mean we hold them accountable for current choices.

        • Yes. We also need to remember that holding accountable is still to be done in a posture of love and compassion, WITH the goal of restoring them to a place of self sufficiency.

  1. Man, this is great.
    It reminds me of something I read the other day about how hard it is to truly accept that the prodigal father looked for and actually made himself look foolish to seek his fallen son who was still self-ostracized. I have a pretty hard time keeping perspective on our Father’s willingness to serve me when I’m still in rebellion.

    • Thanks Micah.

      I am with you man. I try to keep this in mind a lot, yet God convicted me of this very thing as I was preparing my sermon.

      Self-righteousness likes to show its ugly head all too quickly and often.

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