Everyone wants empathy. Many cry, “But you have not been through what I have been through; how could you know how I feel!” There is certainly a great capacity for empathy when someone has suffered the same wrongs, temptations, failures, or even successes. Naturally, everyone understands that. It’s just commonsense. Our society today provides an abundance of examples. Rape, addictions, war, abortion or loosing children are just a few.
Rape victims are often best at helping other rape victims. Though no two incidents are exactly alike, victims feel they can connect emotionally and intellectually with someone who has suffered the same abuse. Other rape victims do not simply understand the physical abuse. Other rape victims feel deep emotional scars or still have wounds that remain. They know.
A number of addiction programs are based on this philosophy. Alcoholics sometimes best deal with other alcoholics because of the common ground they cover during recovery. Alcoholics anonymous was founded in this principle.
One of the most stressful things in combat is facing mortality. The sound of bullets flying by or ricocheting brings crisp, clear perspective. I have talked with Marines, Soldiers and Sailors who lament having pulled the trigger as much as they feared death personally. We can all say, “It was him or me,” or “That‘s just what you have to do in war.” However, these thoughts and speaking these words seldom make the truth about death more acceptable especially when civilians or children are casualties. Many Fire Fighters, EMS and Police Officers struggle emotionally when they see children hurt. These folks want to talk to someone who has been there. The emotional turmoil is real to both the counselor and counseled.
This is a delicate subject, however studies today indicate that a very high percentage of women having aborted children suffer deep emotional damage. Women have a wonderful gift; they bring new life into this world by bearing children . There is often a deep foreboding in their spirit after such a procedure. They often seek others with like experiences to help them through these emotional difficulties.
Some women have lost children through miscarriage or other circumstances without any understanding as to why. These ladies suffer from the pain of having lost a loved one they never even met, or nurtured from infancy. As this little life developed and flourished inside them, they experienced kicks, movement, life! Bonds are made physically, emotionally and mentally. The baby was part of them, literally. Women who have lost children seek counsel from others who have suffered the same loss and still ask, why.
Those who have the endured the same challenges provide counsel that is alive. It is not empty or sterile with academic or emotionless psychoanalysis. It is not monotone but carries the melodies of intricate understanding on every level the senses can provide. They can truly connect in their heart and soul with the victim, addict, soldier, murderer or mother. They can empathize with their thoughts and fears.
The scripture tells us that Jesus was in all ways tempted as man (Hebrews 4:15). Though Jesus never sinned, that does not mean He did not experience temptation and suffer the same choices as man. Jesus chose the path of purity regardless of the difficulty or consequence. Jesus knows how every one of us feels when we are tempted to sin, faced with that seemingly unbearable choice. He knows how every one of us feels when we have to make the hard decisions. He suffered bodily sickness, fatigue and emotional strife the same way we do. He suffered in all ways like we do and more.
Pastors want nothing more than to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and promote the tremendous joy in life with Him. Equally, we know the pain and evil perpetrated by this world. I often think of Jesus submitting himself to the limitations of man and having a mission of salvation not judgment (Philippians 2:8; John 12:47). Here is God incarnate witnessing abusive government, abusive husbands, fathers, mothers and all other social ills. Still, by His own decision He is powerless to correct them. He came to save, not to judge (John 12:47). If He had judged, He would not have suffered all things as we have. How many of us are powerless to correct the great ills of the world? Jesus suffered greater temptation because He had the power and vowed not to use it. He submitted to the evil of the world in order to give His life as an atonement for the sins of all mankind (John 3:16; Romans 5:11).
Ladies and gentlemen, whatever temptation or sin you have suffered, Jesus can empathize with you. He has been there. Further, in many ways where we have wondered why He did not take action to fix things, we find He did take that action. Because He exercised the restraint He did and subjected himself in all ways to the things of the world, He is a better resource for counsel and encouragement. The fix is not what we might desire in the world, wholesale elimination of the ills of man or world peace. God’s personal sacrifice gave man an opportunity to choose a future existence in Heaven. He humbled His deity to the dregs of man, suffered false accusation, injustice, judgment, scourging and crucifixion. He suffered in all ways like us, and much much more. The most beautiful thing? He did it out of love for you (Romans 5:8). It was His loving personal choice to suffer for each person in love. Loving selflessness to love the selfish. He experienced what you experience to be a perfect sacrifice for you.