I Peter 3:8-9 ESV
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called…
Empathy and sympathy are two commonly confused words in the English language. Empathy is “feeling with” another and sympathy is “feeling for” another. In our culture today, empathy is given higher praise than sympathy. You will notice whenever someone is victimized through the social media, people immediately come to their defense by totaling supporting the victim without having full knowledge of the facts.
Typically, the tribal instinct kicks in and people of the specific tribe take upon themselves to protect one of theirs. The immediate focus becomes protecting the victim without truly caring for the truth.
The Bible speaks much about compassion, sympathy, and caring for another, but nothing I could find about empathy. In fact, more is said about being sympathetic which leads to a better outcome for the community and person for the long haul.
The trap of being empathetic is finding oneself lost in the same problem as the victim. One easily becomes buried in the problem with a victimize mentality rather than remaining objective and seeking out the best solution.
Being sympathetic on the other hand, allows one to feel the pain of the victim but maintain enough distance from the situation to gather all the facts and determine the best solution.
Actors like to practice the art of empathizing to become better equipped for the role they plan to play. However, in real life to empathize most often leads to becoming like the other person sharing their beliefs, worldview, and one-sided opinions rather than capturing the overall big picture of the situation. When one empathizes, one often will surrender objective truth and limit their choices by emerging into the life of another.
Jesus Christ is always our prime example. He surrendered his divine home and entered the human sphere. He walked among us, exercised his natural attributes of compassion, didn’t comply with all the cultural standards of his day, but instead exemplified the truth with grace without allowing the feelings of others persuade him. He sympathized with others rather than allow to become swallowed-up by the attitudes and powers around him.
So next time you witness an “injustice”, exercise Godly compassion, sympathize with the victim, and be patience with reaching a verdict until after all the known facts are gathered. There are always two-sides to a story. You risk blinding yourself when you become empathetic. But being sympathetic allows you to view both sides to reach a more objective, holy verdict.
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