From a Polarized Church to Empathy and Compassion

We live in days of polarization. Instead of facing life side by side, we take sides. Instead of sitting with, we stand against.

It has been said that Job’s friends had great empathy and compassion for Job…until they opened their mouths. In the midst of terrible suffering, Job’s friends gathered to comfort him, spending seven days in silence. But then they started speaking. How did that go? We will let Job speak from his experience:

Then Job spoke again:
“How long will you torture me?
How long will you try to crush me with your words?
You have already insulted me ten times.
You should be ashamed of treating me so badly.

Job 19:1-3 (NLT)

Job’s friends failed in empathy and compassion. Our world, and even the Christian church, seems to be failing in empathy and compassion as we stand against one another instead of sitting together, as we take sides instead of facing life side by side.

Instead of a polarised faith tradition we want to be an empathetic and compassionate community of faith but there are two roadblocks that get in the way.

First, certitude gets in the way of becoming an empathetic and compassionate community.

Job’s three friends were there to comfort him but once they all start talking it went downhill and descended into chapter after chapter of argument. The problem is, they were all sure they were right. It can feel like we live in an era of Job chapters 3-37, everyone being so sure they are right.

We see a similar kind of certitude in Saul of Tarsus. He was so sure that the Jesus movement needed to be stamped out, that the Jesus followers needed to be imprisoned, or killed. To quote Brian Zhand:

Saul was furiously enraged because he was certain that he was right and that the Christians were wrong. Biblical certainty was the drug of choice for this young Pharisee, but it only made him mean. Certitude can be an incubator for cruelty. Perceived infallibility can lead to brutality.

Brian Zhand from the book “When Everything is on Fire.”

Zhand goes on to describe how in meeting Jesus, Saul of Tarsus became Paul the apostle and moved from certitude as the top quality of his faith, to love. Can we make that same move? If so we have a chance at a world with less polarization and more empathy and compassion.

Second, the need to win every argument gets in the way of becoming an empathetic and compassionate community.

At no point in all the arguing back and forth in the Book of Job does anyone say to anyone else, “good point,” or “maybe I need to think about that more” or “well maybe we don’t need to solve it today.” Rather, the tone is “I know better.” Each needs to win.

What could have been a conversation, a good conversation and an important conversation about suffering and the place of righteousness in suffering, ended up being an argument. Job chapters 3-37 are not really a record of a conversation between, but rather the record of a series of lectures for, or worse, preaching at.

Conversation requires listening. Listening requires openness and a teachable spirit. A teachable spirit requires the ability to lose an argument.

Can we move from arguments to conversations? If so we have a chance at moving from a polarized world to a more empathetic and compassionate one.

Today we have continued our series called “What Kind of Church” drawing from the cultural statements of Open Table Communities. What kind of church would Jesus himself feel at home in? What kind of church “gets” Jesus? What kind of church do we want to be?

A church with…

A Culture of Empathy and Compassion
We nurture relationships and gatherings where being with people in the midst of their journey, is more important than being right or being in control. We encourage empathetic listening and compassion for each person’s unique journey and story, including our own.

Open Table Communities
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