Empathy connects us with our fellow man, allowing us to inhabit their skin, so to speak. It is essential that any good citizen is imbued with a vast amount of empathy. For Christians it is absolutely essential.
Empathy is defined as, “The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”/1 The origin of the word roughly means, “Affection to suffer.”/2
The empathetic have the ability to step out of their world and suffer with someone else. Instead of seeing their experiences as the standard, they can feel for someone who has endured something they have never encountered.
“Empathy depends not only on one’s ability to identify someone else’s emotions but also on one’s capacity to put oneself in the other person’s place and to experience an appropriate emotional response.”/3
As Christians, empathy is necessary for the following:
First, evangelism requires empathy. When we approach someone with the gospel, we must do so as we would want to be treated. We hear ourselves as someone who is in need of the simple message of Jesus. They are a soul that needs love, rather than condescension and ridicule.
Understanding their situation can allow us a special tenderness and we will listen better. We feel their pain and confusion and do what we can to ease their troubled road.
Second, fellowship requires empathy. How can we “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2, NKJV), if we cannot feel them? How can we see where our brethren are hurting if our eyes cannot see past ourselves?
If we can only see them in light of our own experiences and perspectives, we are a threat to judge them (Matthew 7:1-2), rather than reaching out to their hearts.
Third, benevolence requires empathy. Without it, we judge and condescend, seeing everyone as a liar. While it is true that many are lying, a lack of empathy means we will likely never help anyone. We match up wisdom, experience and empathy to create a powerful force in the community.
In a way, worship requires something similar to empathy. We need to imagine what God feels when we worship. If we focus on him, our worship will be more reverential and passionate. We will connect with him in ways we have never experienced.
Is life about us? If so, empathy will always be elusive and we will never endear ourselves to those around us.