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The Law of Empathy

Deuteronomy 10:18-19
“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”

There are two components to this singular law here, the first relating to action and the second to attitude. The actionable imperative is to ‘love the sojourner,’ but the attitude in which that action occurs matters just as much: “For you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Let’s call this the law of empathy. These Israelites will only be able to sacrificially provide for their neighbors’ welfare if they empathize with their neighbor’s plight. Because love from the heart comes from suffering shared.

Now, that isn’t to say that sympathy doesn’t lead to great acts of compassion as well. We can’t count how many schools and orphanages and hospitals and birthing clinics and churches have born fruit in the world from sympathetic saints who felt a tangible, gospel need and were driven to sow new seeds in the lives of those they couldn’t fully understand, meeting needs they couldn’t wholly empathize with from experience. Nevertheless, consider that the immeasurable depth of Christ’s love for us comes through scars of shared suffering. Ponder what it means that He looked down from His lofty throne in heaven and wept over our sin, shame, and suffering, but didn’t stop there. That He walked the earth in our skin, felt the callouses on his hands and feet from our toil, bore the sting of our oppression, not as a King but as a poor man—a homeless man—a working class man—a spit-upon and abused man—a vilified man—ultimately a crucified and abandoned man—a sojourner in the very earth He fashioned. That’swhy we need His help to love those in our own lives who we don’t understand, those suffering through duress we can’t relate to, because the God Who empowers our ministries is the very God Who empathizes with the depths of all human suffering—and went even deeper still.

Paul writes the law of empathy this way in Philippians 2: “Have this attitude in yourselves that is yours in Christ Jesus.” Without that, we’ll never be capable of performing the action of love upon which the entire law rests.