Empathy is Jesus, and Jesus is Empathy. Empathy is one of the most Christlike Virtues there is.
The Victory in Virtue Series
Hello Readers, hope all’s well. Today I present another entry in the Victory in Virtue series. As this series gets closer to wrapping up, I’m continuing with more Virtues. Today’s post is on the Virtue of Empathy.
Jesus Himself never uses the specific word “Empathy,” and it’s not used in most New Testament translations. But the Virtue of Empathy is a core Christian Virtue, and one of the most important Virtues we must have. Jesus commands us to love one another, to love our neighbor and our enemy as we love ourselves. But as I will show today, we have no hope of doing that if we don’t have the Virtue of Empathy. The importance of this Virtue can never be overstated.
So let’s talk about this critical, but sometimes overlooked, Christian Virtue. The Virtue of Empathy.
What Is the Virtue of Empathy?
Empathy. Noun: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
In other words, the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. The ability to imagine what they’re going through, the problems they deal with. The ability to imagine what it feels like to be homeless, sick, destitute, grieving, and more. The ability to try to understand another person’s experience, and what they go through.
In a great post called “Empathy and the New Testament,” a writer named L. Ann Jervis describes Empathy as being “able to transcend myself and my own experience to enter into the experience of another.” This is the goal when we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
Empathy connotes not just listening to another’s story but also participating in the other’s story, so that the listener not only hears and believes the facts of another’s experience, but actually feels the experience at some level. To have empathy with another is not simply to believe what that person says but to feel along with that person, to participate in that person’s experience.L. Ann Jervis, “Empathy and the New Testament,” https://www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/3-1b.htm
Thus to take an empathetic stance towards another means that I am able to transcend myself and my own experience in order to enter into the experience of another. Those who have received such empathy from another will know that there is nothing more healing or more validating than this.
Jervis goes on to talk about Empathy as it can be found in the New Testament. She points out that the New Testament doesn’t use the specific word “Empathy,” but teachings on Empathy can be found all throughout. And the New Testament’s teachings on Empathy start with Jesus Himself.
[…] I have found the topic to be an extremely fruitful road into fundamental New Testament theology. The most obvious New Testament example of empathy is, of course, Jesus himself. The early Christian writer Irenaeus does not use the word empathy when he talks about Jesus, but his famous statement conveys what we might call a Christology of empathy: “he became as we are in order that we might become as he is.”L. Ann Jervis, “Empathy and the New Testament,” https://www.mcmaster.ca/mjtm/3-1b.htm
Jesus stepped into our shoes in the most extreme and literal way possible. He is the Son of God but came in the flesh, as the Son of Man. He actually wore our human shoes on his human feet!! (Well, technically sandals I guess). Right from the start, Jesus had Empathy for our human race by becoming human Himself.
He went through everything we go through, like hunger, thirst, and pain. And He was tempted in every way that we are, so He understands all the temptations we struggle with (Hebrews 4:15). Jesus understands all our suffering. He knows what it’s like to be human, and He understands our weakness. But He loves us, helps us, Saves us, and strengthens us anyway, despite our flaws.
(15) because we don’t have a high priest who can’t sympathize with our weaknesses but instead one who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin.Hebrews 4:15 (CEB)
This is one of the most amazing things about Christianity. We have a personal Savior who understands our human experience in every way, because He lived as one of us. And this personal Savior is also our connection with God, our Salvation, and the One who forgives us our sins. It’s truly amazing.
Our Savior coming as a human, in the flesh, is the ultimate act of Empathy. He understands everything about us because He lived, suffered, and died as one of us. Jesus is Empathy. And Empathy is one of the most important Christian Virtues.
Jesus is Empathy, and not only that, He teaches the Virtue of Empathy too. In Matthew 25, He teaches us the importance of doing the Acts of Mercy. These are: Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the prisoner, visiting the sick, and so on. These acts are motivated by the Virtue of Empathy (and Charity), which I will explain in a moment. But first, let’s listen to the words of the Savior. Let’s look at Matthew 25, and what Jesus says about doing the Acts of Mercy.
(34) “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. (35) I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. (36) I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’Matthew 25:34-46 (CEB)
(37) “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? (38) When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? (39) When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
(40) “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
(41) “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. (42) I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. (43) I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
(44) “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ (45) Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ (46) And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.”
The Righteous ones who truly belong to God, who truly follow Jesus, they’re the ones who do these Acts of Mercy while they live on earth. They receive their eternal reward: Eternal life with God. Those who don’t belong to God, don’t care about the Acts of Mercy. They receive an eternal punishment: Eternal damnation.
But besides avoiding an eternal punishment, why do these Acts of Mercy? Should we do them just because Jesus taught us to do them? Although that is reason enough on its own, there’s something more to doing these Acts of Mercy. The Acts of Mercy are motivated by the Virtue of Empathy.
When we have the Virtue of Empathy, we can put ourselves in another person’s shoes and imagine how it feels to be in their situation. We can imagine how it feels to be hungry, poorly clothed, and homeless (if we’ve never experienced these), and sympathize with the pain the other feels. We do the Acts of Mercy out of love for them, in the hopes of easing their struggle and helping them with their urgent needs. But Empathy is where that love and compassion comes from.
If we don’t have the Virtue of Empathy, we don’t care. We don’t care about how others feel, what they’re going through. Jesus says in Matthew 25 the unrighteous don’t care about doing the Acts of Mercy—these unrighteous have no Empathy. But if we can put ourselves in another person’s shoes (Empathy), we’ll care about their suffering and want to help out of love for our fellow human. We can’t feel and express this love if we lack the Virtue of Empathy. The Virtue of Empathy is one of the most important Virtues Christ teaches and wants us to have. We have to love one another, and can’t do this without Empathy.
The Virtue of Empathy is one of the most Christlike Virtues there is. He understands and cares deeply about everyone. But without the Virtue of Empathy, we can’t care about anyone. If we can’t care, how can we love others? How can we love our neighbor and our enemy as we love ourselves? How can we be Christians who follow Christ??
God sent Jesus to Save us because of how much He loved us (John 3:16). But this act was also motivated by God’s Empathy—God knew us, and knew we needed the Savior to have any Hope of Salvation. So He gave us what we desperately needed. And by sending Jesus in the flesh, God did this in a way that showed ultimate Empathy.
Jesus is Empathy. He came as one of us, He understands us. He knows our struggle, because He lived it. He suffered and died as one of us. He knows our pain, because He felt it Himself. All this was Empathy. And so, Empathy is one of the most Christlike Virtues there is. Everything Jesus did, every miracle and act of healing, showed His infinite Empathy. It’s no wonder Jesus teaches us to have Empathy for others.
And it’s more important than ever that we have Empathy for others now. The Virtue of Empathy is on the decline in today’s world. People are less willing to step into another person’s shoes and see things from their eyes. People are less willing to talk with those who are different, and understand each other. Most of all, people seem to care nothing for the feelings of others these days. People are more absorbed with themselves, and uncaring others. They don’t want to love each other, especially those who disagree or are different. They don’t care to try understanding.
A lack of Empathy turns people cold, self-centered, and in extreme cases, even evil. The narcissist is a person who has no Empathy for others. They don’t care about how others feel at all. The decline of Empathy in our world today is creating more people like this.
If we lose our Empathy, our ability to feel for others, we become cold and merciless. We don’t care about anyone besides ourselves, we don’t care for anyone else’s feelings. BEWARE!! ALERT!! THIS WAY OF LIVING WILL COST US OUR SALVATION!! James 2:13 explains there will be no mercy for the merciless. If we lose our Empathy, we lose our mercy, we lose our eternal life.
(13) There will be no mercy in judgment for anyone who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy overrules judgment.James 2:13 (CEB)
Don’t follow the ways of this world (Romans 12:2) with its declining Empathy and rising narcissism and ruthlessness. We must cultivate the Virtue of Empathy, one of the most Christlike Virtues there is. The fact that the world is less loving and Empathetic every day doesn’t give us any excuse to become that way too. We have to step into other people’s shoes, and see the world from their eyes. We have to understand them, see where they’re coming from, and Empathize with them.
It’s not easy, in fact it’s often one of the more difficult things we have to do. When we disagree so much with someone else, we don’t want to see things from their eyes or where they’re coming from. And if they get into trouble, we don’t care how it feels to be in their situation. But our Savior had ultimate Empathy for everyone—for you, me, them, everybody. So we need to follow His example and do the same. Jesus taught us to love one another, after all, and we can’t do that without Empathy.
And I need to add one final thing here. Part of the Virtue of Empathy is Forgiveness, and not judging people for their sins. It’s remembering that we’re all human, we’re all imperfect, and we all sin (Romans 3:23). If we have no Empathy, we’ll judge others too harshly for their sins. We’ll judge them for being too weak to resist their temptations or control themselves. We won’t realize our own hypocrisy (because we have sins of our own). If we’re serious about following the LORD, He won’t tolerate this hypocritical attitude from us. We must have Empathy about the sins of others, and understand why they’re tempted, why they fall to sin … and have sympathy when they suffer because of their sins.
God is Patient, compassionate, and understanding with us. So we must be the same way toward others.
So we need Empathy. OK, great. How do we get it? Let’s move on to that topic now. Prayer is one of the best ways to cultivate the Virtue of Empathy. So let’s look at some prayers for gaining the Virtue of Empathy.
Prayers for the Virtue of Empathy
There are many prayers we could pray to receive the Virtue of Empathy. The best ones of course will be the ones that we create ourselves—the ones that come straight from the heart. Remember: When we pray we aren’t trying to say the right combination of words to unlock something in Heaven. No, that would be magic, which is an abomination to the LORD. Prayer is much simpler. Simply tell the LORD what you want, what you need, what’s on your mind, what’s bothering you, and so on.
Praying for a Virtue is a great way to build it up. It’s one of the best ways, actually. So here are a few short, simple prayers for the Virtue of Empathy you can try adding to your prayer routine.
No Empathy Means no Love
Empathy lies in being able to step into another person’s shoes, and see things from their point of view. To step into their experience for a moment, and try to understand how it feels to live their life. How it feels to be them, to face their problems and challenges, and so on.
If more people in the world were able to do this (or if they’d bother to do it more), there would be more mercy in this world. We would have more mercy toward those in crisis, toward the homeless and poor, toward sinners, criminals … everybody. If there was more Empathy in this world, there would be more mercy and sympathy toward everybody and less anger and conflict.
And it makes perfect sense. If we try to understand another person’s experience, we can sympathize with what they deal with and how it might feel to be them. If we can do that, we can love them. We need to have this Empathy toward the experiences of others if we want to show Christian love to others, as Jesus tells us to. How can we love our neighbor and our enemy as we love ourselves if we don’t care one bit about them, their life, or the things they go through?
The answer is we can’t. So we’re going to need the Virtue of Empathy, a Virtue shown to us by Jesus Himself just by who He is and came to us as. So here’s a prayer asking for this most crucial Virtue.
LORD, though I may never fully understand the life of another, what they go through every day or why they do what they do, I know it’s Your Will that I try. Please save me, rescue me, and do not allow my heart to grow cold! I pray You will grant me the Virtue of Empathy so I will be able to care about others. I know Christian love is not possible without the Virtue of Empathy and genuinely caring about others, no matter who they are. Please grant me the Virtue of Empathy, as was demonstrated by Your Son Jesus Christ coming in the flesh as one of us, so that I may do my human best to try to understand the experiences of others, care about them, be Patient with them, and love them. Amen.
Your Salvation Is for my “Enemies” too
We all have people we disagree with. We all have people we conflict with, argue with, and maybe even fight with (hopefully not). When there’s friction between us, it’s hard to have Empathy for the other person. We don’t care about where they’re coming from because they’re so opposed to us. When they get into trouble, we don’t care, and we might even be happy about it (which is a sin).
But wait a minute, doesn’t John 3:16 say that God so loved the world, He gave His only Son for us so all who believe in Him may have eternal life?? It does say that, doesn’t it. If God did this so that all may have eternal life, then didn’t He also do it for those we have the most conflict with? Those we have the least Empathy for? Yes, of course He did.
God loves everyone, and we have to do the same! We must have Empathy for everyone, because God does. Our personal challenge is to have Empathy for the people most opposed to us. And also for those who are most different from us and we understand the least. But if we remember John 3:16, that should help us keep the right attitude. Everyone is loved by God, so He expects us to get along with each other. We have to do our part to make that happen.
So here’s a prayer focused on this idea. Check it out:
LORD, I know and profess that You so loved the world, You gave your only Son for us so that all who believe in Him will have eternal life (John 3:16). I know and profess that You did this not only for me but also for those I conflict with the most. I know and profess that You love both me and those I have the least Empathy for. LORD, I confess and REPENT! of my lack of Empathy toward others. I confess and REPENT! of my lack of Empathy toward [name a person, group of people, etc., if this applies]. Please heal my heart of coldness, self-absorption, and mercilessness, that I may feel the Empathy for others displayed by Jesus, who was the embodiment of Empathy. Warm my heart to be more like His. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
We all Fall Short
I said that one part of the Virtue of Empathy is being Patient and forgiving toward others about their sins. This is because when we see people sinning, indulging temptations, or living a life of worldly pleasure seeking, we can too easily fall into the trap of being judgmental. We can fall into the trap of feeling superior to them, more Spiritual, holier than thou.
Well, this is a sinful attitude because it’s prideful. We’re all the same, we’re all sinners (Romans 3:23). Every human is imperfect, and every human is a sinner. Even the most Pious and devout are sure to fall sometimes. Besides that, we all have some temptations we’re weak against. We all have a weakness, some worldly pleasure that tempts us to disobey God and seek sinful pleasure. It could be sex (lust), it could be desserts (gluttony), it could be binge watching TV (sloth), it could be many things. But we are almost guaranteed to fall to our specific temptation sometimes. We’re going to do it much less if we’re walking with the LORD … but we’re still guaranteed to fail sometimes, in one way or another. (And when that happens, we need to pick ourselves back up quickly and try again).
If we keep that in mind, we know we have no right to judge anyone for any sins of theirs. We should have Empathy for them, being understanding of why they sin, why they’re tempted. We should think of our own temptations and remember we’re no better or holier than anyone else. We’re all tempted to something. Above all else, we must never condemn anyone else because Christ doesn’t condemn us (John 8:11).
So here’s a prayer asking the LORD’s help in keeping this correct mindset.
LORD, please forgive me for my hypocritical, judgmental attitudes toward others about being tempted to sin. We are all tempted to sins, and I’m no different. I have sins of my own and have no right to judge anyone. We all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). So I now REPENT! of my hypocrisy and confess and REPENT! to you of the sins of [state your sins here]. Please forgive me for my sins, and for my sinful attitude. Please grant me the Empathy to be Patient with others about their sins, especially their sins against me. Please grant me the Empathy to remember that we’re all human, no one is perfect, and I must never condemn anyone because Jesus so graciously does not condemn me (John 8:11). Amen.
Again, there are so many options for praying for any Virtue. I could go on and on and on. Everyone is always welcome to leave a comment with prayers of their own.
But once we’re done praying, it’s time to act (in the physical world). Let’s move on to that now.
Living the Virtue
To cultivate a Virtue, we must also practice it, and do that consistently. Don’t just do it a few times and stop there—stay consistent. That consistency is how we build up a habit. It’s also how we cultivate and strengthen a virtue.
So how can we do that with Empathy? Let’s look at a few practical ideas. And remember: These are only a start! The possibilities are endless. I welcome any comments with good ideas about this.
Here are just a few ideas of how we can live out the Virtue of Empathy in our own lives:
- Visit people in a different situation than you (such as the poor, the sick, etc.). Eat with them, talk to them, see what a day in their life is like.
- When someone opposes you, talk with them rather than fighting or arguing. Talk to them about themselves. Find out more about them and their life.
- When someone tells you the sad story of their woes, listen quietly with a non-judgmental attitude
- And other ideas you can think of!
The three ideas for today may not be accessible or practical for everyone. Some of these options may be closed off to you, depending on your circumstances. But you should be able to attempt at least one of these ideas. Think them over, pray for Wisdom about them, and use your God-given creativity to think of how you might do one of these.
The first item is about visiting others and spending some time with them. This helps build the Virtue of Empathy because what better way is there to try and understand a person’s experience than to spend a day with them, and see what a day in their life is like? We should try to do this with people in different situations than ours. Maybe there’s someone in our neighborhood who’s sick. We could see if they can handle visitors, and if they can, we could spend time with them, even helping around the house or something. If we do, we’ll get a better understanding of what it’s like to live with their illness, and how it might feel to be in their shoes.
We’ll learn something new, see what a day in their life is like. We’ll become able to imagine their experience better. In other words, we’ll increase our Empathy. So the more people in different situations we can do this with, the more we’ll grow our understanding.
Next, it’s inevitable that we’ll have conflict with others. Nothing in the Gospels even tries to pretend like this isn’t the case. But Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that when we have conflict with others, we must do our best to resolve it ASAP.
(21) “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder, and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. (22) But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. […] (25) Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison.Matthew 5:21-22; 25 (CEB)
So we have this instruction from the Savior that when we have a problem with someone, we have to clear it up. When someone opposes us, instead of fighting back against them with arguments or whatever, let’s try a different route. Let’s try to talk things out. Let’s try to talk things out with our rival. Let’s try to get to know them more. What are they like? What’s their life like? What problems and concerns are they dealing with every day?
If we know these things, we can start to see from their point of view. And if we can do that, we have a better chance at negotiating with them. Maybe we can relieve some of their worries, or help them with one of their problems. If we can turn a rival into a friend by helping them solve one of their problems, it creates nothing but good all around. Clearing up our issues with them works to our advantage, because we lose a troublesome opponent and the headaches they give us. It also works for our opponent for the same reasons. It’s a win-win! But it’s not an outcome we can reach if we don’t talk with our rivals, opponents, and competitors. If we don’t Empathize with each other at all, and know where the other is coming from.
Last, it’s an act of great Empathy to listen to someone tell their story. This is even more true if it’s someone telling a story of sins, falling into temptation, and how it harmed their life. Imagine, for example, someone telling the story of how they became addicted to drugs, and how that cost them everything.
Instead of being judgmental toward them, listen to their story and be understanding. Sympathize with their consequences, and be compassionate toward the reasons they fell to temptation, remembering that we’re all tempted to something. And we all fall to temptation sometimes.
Listening to a person’s story without judgment like this is one of the most Empathetic things we can do. When a person has a chance to tell their story to an understanding and non-judgmental listener, it very often makes them feel better and helps relieve their burden. It means a great deal to them. So this simple act of listening is one of the most loving acts of Empathy there is.
Jesus Is Empathy
Jesus never uses the specific word: “Empathy.” And yet, His very being is a manifestation of God’s Empathy, and everything Jesus did on earth showed Empathy.
Empathy is Jesus, and Jesus is Empathy. Empathy is one of the most Christlike Virtues there is. It’s an essential Virtue for every Christian to have.
Jesus taught us to love one another. He taught us to love our neighbor, and our enemy. Well … we can’t ever hope to do that if we can’t care about them or how they feel!! If we don’t have the Virtue of Empathy, we stop caring about others. We especially stop caring about how they feel, or how our actions will make them feel. We grow cold, merciless, ruthless. We take on sinful characteristics that are the opposite of a good Christian.
And if we can’t care about others, especially about how they feel, then we can’t sympathize with them. We can’t care for or about them. In other words, we can’t love them. Christian love needs Empathy, or else it will never ignite in our hearts. So if we don’t have Empathy, we have no Hope of being able to obey the command of our Savior to love God and love one another.
If we lose our Empathy, we lose our Christian love. This makes our life cold, merciless, ugly, and unbearable. Caring about others can be hard at times. It’s certainly harder than not caring … but the consequences of not caring are not worth it. If we live a life with no emotion and Empathy, life turns into a cold, painful experience. Caring about others does involve pain at times, yes. But it’s what makes us human, the ability to care about and Empathize with each other. The Virtue of Empathy is one we must cultivate and guard at all costs. If we lose it, we lose a core part of our humanity. And that’s not what God wants for us.
But if we hold on to our Empathy, and grow in this Virtue, our life will have more love in it. All our relationships will be deeper and more meaningful. And we’ll please God by doing our human best to be more like His Perfect Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. The Spiritual and material benefits of having the Virtue of Empathy cannot be described or overstated. A life with great love is worth living, it’s happy and fulfilling. If that’s the kind of life we want, then we need the Virtue of Empathy.
The Virtue for next time is Service. Stay tuned for that and Subscribe to my FREE weekly newsletter with the link below so you’ll never miss a post!!
Well that’s all for today. If you enjoyed today’s post, please be sure to Subscribe using the link below. And please consider Supporting My Blog using the Tip Jar. Any amount is much appreciated!
Until next time, be strong and do good!
Your new best friend in Christ,
<<<EXALT THE LORD OUR GOD AND WORSHIP AT HIS HOLY HILL; FOR THE LORD OUR GOD IS HOLY>>>
Follow My Blog
Subscribe to my FREE Substack newsletter so you never miss any of my posts!
Support My Blog
The Tip Jar
If you enjoyed this article, or any of the content on my site, please consider tossing a dollar in ‘the tip jar’ by donating here. All donations of any amount are greatly appreciated! If all you have to give are thoughts and prayers, I will gladly accept those too! I receive those, don’t worry 🙂