Learning Compassion

No one likes suffering. It hurts terribly. It’s painful. But time and again, I’m reminded that, as believers, we should have a view of suffering which is radically different from that of the world. If one doesn’t know Christ, then, yes, suffering is something to be avoided at all costs. But if “anyone would come after” Christ, Jesus himself tells him that “he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Which, of course, doesn’t mean that we ought to seek out suffering but does, clearly, call us as Christians to a life of self denial and of rejoicing in the midst of pain.

Yet, even when we know what Scripture says and know what God calls us to, it is terribly easy to become comfortable, apathetic, and spiritually lazy when everything is going well or when one is enjoying a wonderful season in the “Erskine bubble.” We quickly become focused on pursuing our own goals and comfort, or even simply become complacent and distracted, caught up in trivial “struggles” and fears which seem large to us because we’ve lost sight of the eternal and have consequently lost perspective. I was struck the other day by words of Proverbs 30:8b-9a, which declares, “[G]ive me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” This verse points out that, when we begin to enjoy prosperity, our inveterate tendency as human beings is to begin to rely on ourselves, forgetting God.

That’s not to say that suffering in and of itself is more spiritual than prosperity…but it is clear that God often teaches us most during times of hardship, because it is during such times that we are forced to recognize our great need for Him and then run to Him, as the things of this world fade in importance. As C.S. Lewis says, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” And if you’re anything like me, you’re often quite deaf, spiritually speaking.

Something God has put on my heart recently is the way in which trials often prepare and equip us to be a comfort to others when they experience similar trials. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul declares, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” Notice how Paul says that God comforts us so that we can then comfort others with the same comfort we’ve received. Perhaps, then, compassion and loving concern for those in need—whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually—aren’t things that come naturally to us, but are spiritual fruits which God works out in us through the suffering which He allows in our own lives. Paul goes on to declare this: “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” Let
us seek, then, to be conduits of God’s grace as the comfort we’ve received overflows into the lives of others.