Empathy: The quality or process of entering fully, through one’s imagination, into another’s feelings or motives, into the meaning of a work of art, or the like. (The New Oxford American Dictionary)
Empathy gets me in trouble sometimes. Like the time I visited my friend in the hospital after she had surgery for a ruptured appendix. She had been in intensive care and was now hooked up to tubes, and wires that were monitoring everything. Her skin color matched the white sheets she lay under and she was weak. I could only imagine what she was feeling…..then the room got fuzzy and I got woozy and the next thing I knew I was being awakened from the floor of the hospital room and transferred to the empty bed beside my friend so that I could recover from my fainting spell. That was the fifth grade. But fast forwarding ten or so years more, I am accompanying a friend to the Emergency Room late at night after she has just broken her foot. Hours in the waiting room produced much moaning and rocking by my friend. Then there was the exam where they moved her foot in different directions and she writhed with pain. 5…4….3….2…1…I was out. Again I was awakened from the hospital floor and placed in the vacant bed to recover.
Empathy can be a powerful thing. It is empathy that stirs men and women to fight for the welfare, help or relief of another. It begins charities, causes, awareness campaigns and other humanitarian efforts. It helps us practice understanding and moves us closer to others, but it was more than empathy that brought the Son of God into our world. God wanted to identify with us and make a way through our pain, suffering, sin and darkness back to Himself. Although He gave us an imagination to identify with others, He Himself took us “on”. “(He) made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled Himself and became obedient to the death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8)
Jesus became like us in every way. The writer of Hebrews says: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
Isaiah 53:3 says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” Then in verses 4-5 He says: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
I stand in awe of a message given by angels over 2000 years ago to shepherds in a field. They said, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10)
This good news was not that God was watching mankind from a distance with sympathy, but that He was coming near. Emmanuel means God with us. He came to identify with us, not just empathize. He came to be the Savior of the world.
“…and she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)
While I may listen to your stories and imagine what it must feel like to be you, the Son of God identifies with you. He knows your pain, suffering, struggle, and grief. He came to be near you. He came to be your Emmanuel. Receive Him today.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)