Empathy in Opposition / by Chris Pollock

Rev. Michaele LaVigne

Lately it’s been hard for me to look at Facebook or read the news without feeling angry and overwhelmed. It seems everywhere I look I am confronted with injustice, fear, and division. I long for justice, for peace, and for unity.

But unity does not come when the opposing view is silenced. Peace cannot be legislated, and justice doesn’t come from oppressing the oppressor. I have come to the conviction that healing we seek cannot come without humility and empathy. Humility that allows us to learn from those we don’t understand, and serve even those we disagree with. Empathy that allows us to feel for one another, even if we do not understand their feelings.

I cannot get these words of the Apostle Paul out of my head:

Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.

Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 1.27—2.11, NLT)

The longer I follow Jesus the more I realize why people hated him. It’s one thing to have Jesus give up his privileges to serve me; it’s another thing entirely for me to give up my privileges to serve others. It’s great that Jesus was humble enough to empathize with me as a human; it’s another thing when I’m asked to empathize with someone who offends me.

And yet, here we are. If we are committed to the way of Jesus, this is the only way left for us to walk:

The way of humility.

The way of empathy.

The way that opposes injustice without violence of words or actions.

It’s ok to admit it. This way is hard, and it doesn’t come naturally to us. But thanks be to God it is not left entirely up to us to take on the same attitude that was in Christ! The same Spirit that fueled his humility and empathy fuels ours too. The same Spirit that guided his decisions guides ours too. And it is the same Spirit who supplies us with the courage we need to walk this good, hard Way of Jesus.

I’d like to recommend a few practical tips on how we can practice empathy and humility in our daily interactions:

Say “I’m sorry.” It doesn’t have to mean that it’s your fault. When someone is hurting, overwhelmed, or even angry, a simple, “I’m really sorry you’re feeling that way” goes a long way.

• Is there an individual or group driving you crazy? Ask Jesus to help you see him/her/them the way he does.

Exhibit a willingness to learn. Seek out information from those whose experience is different than yours. Ask questions, and then listen.

Admit when you’re wrong, and apologize. It’s hard, really hard. But nothing goes so far to diffuse a situation and demonstrate humility than an honest apology.

Church, our wounded, divided, and sin-sick world needs us. May we allow the Spirit to lead us so that with Jesus we may be agents of our Father’s redeeming love.