23 Nov 2023

Empathy or Compassion?

Our churches
Caring for one another, and not passing by people who have hit tough times is an intrinsic part of being a Christian.

But is it possible to care too much? We are sometimes tempted to love without limits — to give ourselves entirely to other people and to lose ourselves in the service of others. But looking to Jesus as our model, we see that he sometimes moved away from needy people to pray (Luke 5:16), to sleep (Matthew 8:24) or to find space for his own emotions (Matthew 14:10-13). So where does the balance lie in how we care for people

While it’s important to show a degree of empathy — feeling someone else’s pain, and telling them that you understand what they are going through — it can also create its own problems, because empathy brings a risk of burnout. And then we’re no use to anyone, even ourselves. Empathy exacts a price from our hearts and bodies.

The bible doesn’t talk about empathy. Instead, it uses the word “compassion”. Rather than generating an overwhelming emotional response (as with empathy), compassion triggers a caring response. Recent research has shown that empathy and compassion are even generated in different areas of the brain. 

Several times in the gospels, Jesus is described as having compassion on people in need. And God is called “the Father of Compassion” in 2 Corinthians 1:3.

As Christians, we need to understand that we aren’t called to living an emotionally exhausting, draining, distressing existence. Good caring needn’t carry an overwhelming emotional impact for ourselves and our families. What we’re called to is something that leads us to a sense of justice, a desire to see positive change take place, and a moving forward.

Christianity and compassion go hand in hand.