Thursday, October 8, 2009

Compassion Challenge

Compassion is a very important part of love. It helps us care about people who are in need and motivates us to take action to help others. But society has taught us some very interesting lessons about who deserves our compassion. Sometimes we think that if people have brought their trouble upon themselves, then we shouldn't waste our concern on them. I want to challenge that assumption by widening the scope of compassion to include some people that society often neglects.
  • People who should know better. We have a lot more patience with children than we have with adults because children are just learning and don't have the same level of cognitive function that adults have. We expect children to be led astray by their emotions, but we demand more cool logic from adults. When people make choices that we think were obviously poor or repeat mistakes they have made before, it can be hard to feel compassionate. Sometimes we think they deserve the consequences. To be fair, though, I haven't immediately learned from all of my mistakes, and I've done a lot of stupid things. Sometimes I knew I should have known better, and then I felt even worse. That's when I most needed someone to have compassion on me and comfort me while I recovered from whatever mess I had made. When I see someone who's done something particularly boneheaded, I need to remind myself that that person may be more in need of my compassion than ever.
  •  People who have done really bad things. We don't often have a lot of compassion for criminals. The worse the sin, the less likely we are to be sympathetic to the sinner. Jesus left us a much different example, however. He was kind to people who had really messed up their lives. After all, how can sinners be expected to change without loving support? It's not very charitable of us to just write people off. If we start trying to meet their needs, we could help these 'bad' people become good and productive citizens and restore their broken relationship with God in the process.
  • People who aren't sorry for their mistakes. It's kind of hard to relate to people who just don't care about the damage they've done. While the sin is indeed repugnant, the state of these lost souls is just sad. Each person has to make the choice to repent for him or herself, and there may be nothing we can do. But instead of rejecting those people, I think that Christians should pray for them and continue reaching out to them as much as possible. Our attempts at kindness may be rebuffed, but even broken, twisted souls should be treated with basic human dignity. How else will they have any chance of learning what it means to feel respect for themselves and for others?
  • People who have hurt us. Sometimes our compassion evaporates when things get personal. It can be hard for us to really care about the problems people who have hurt us face because we are more concerned about the problems they've given us. I still struggle with this problem, and I sometimes find myself hypocritically applauding karma when something unfortunate befalls a person who has injured me. I need to remember that I sometimes hurt others too, and I don't really want people sitting around and eagerly waiting for something bad to happen to me so that they can have retribution. 
Society encourages us not to waste our compassion on people who don't 'deserve' it. But from a Christian perspective, no one is past redemption, and everyone was made in the image of God. That means that God loves everyone, so if we value God's opinion, we should be willing to be compassionate even to the people who frustrate and anger us the most. God has been generous with His love for me, so if I want to be generous with my own love, I need to concentrate on what people need, not what they deserve. Sometimes people are most in need of compassion when they've made a huge mistake or are lost and warped by sin. That's certainly true for me—often I need compassion the most when I least deserve it.

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