I’ll never forget my confusion followed by my enlightenment as I watched two actors portray a fictional, therapeutic conversation between God and Jonah, the Old Testament prophet. The sketch was funny and thought-provoking simultaneously. It started with Jonah on “the couch” and “therapist” God asking questions, analyzing.
Eventually, as Jonah expresses the hurt and confusion surrounding his call, he stands. He wants God to understand that God doesn’t understand the human condition, human emotions. There’s a separation in the infinitely Divine and the finitely human. The session was at an impasse because the therapist had never been in the patient’s shoes.
God stands and subtly makes his way to the couch. Jonah is now asking the questions. God lays back, pondering answers. Jonah is now sitting, analyzing, pleading, and questioning. The point? God didn’t know what Jonah was feeling. God didn’t understand because God is God.
Now, depending on your theology and/or your comfort level with anthropomorphizing God, you may think this blasphemous. I did at the time. I was not okay with this view of God. But the person with me saw through to the bigger picture. One my 19 year old maturity couldn’t recognize. And when he explained it to me, I was blown away.
God in a bod…
One of the most essential understandings of God and Jesus in Christian theology is that of the full humanity and Divinity of Jesus. A both/and situation with who he was at the core of his nature. The idea is simple and complex at the same time. Jesus was in human form, emptied himself of his divine attributes to become so, and yet remained in full relationship to the essence of Divinity with Father God through Spirit God.
The point of the sketch was that God had never been human. But that would change. God would put on an earth-suit. Divinity would dress in flesh. Deity meets humanity. Fully God. Fully human. This changes everything. At this point God begins to understand. God begins to sympathize and empathize with the human condition. The writer of the letter to the Hebrew church says it this way…
“This High Priest [Jesus] of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” (emphasis added)
Jesus showed up and experienced. Experienced life. Experienced love. Experienced loss. Experienced friendship. Experienced rejection. Experienced death.
In all of this, God through Jesus, shows us two very important things: empathy and grace.
Empathy is the ability to suspend judgment and imagine the experience of another.
Grace is generously giving to the undeserved.
Jesus came to save. To rescue hearts. To display the love of God, even to the point of humiliating death. The story of Jesus is the story of empathy and grace at its highest realization. No judgment. Just love demonstrated through sacrificial living and dying. Jesus explains it this way when discussing with a Jewish religious leader…
“God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”
So what now…
I am often stunned by the lack of empathy and grace on the part of those who claim to follow Jesus. Although, I shouldn’t be. I was there myself. I struggled loving. I was judgmental. I was always right and the “other” was wrong so they deserved whatever they got and it didn’t matter to me. I didn’t care to listen to stories. They didn’t matter to me. Empathy wasn’t often modeled by my church leaders because any appearance of compassion was an appearance of weakness and leaders aren’t weak.
But compassion was central to the ministry of Jesus. It was his Divinity and his humanity all at once. Matthew shares it this way in his gospel account…
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
He didn’t judge them. He didn’t condemn them. He didn’t point out how they were wrong. He didn’t tell them they were going to get what they deserved. He showed compassion. A good way to understand compassion is as the “heart” behind empathy and grace. It’s the move in us that moves us towards another.
I’d love to see every human being live and breathe the compassion necessary to move them to empathy and grace. But if you follow Jesus, it’s what you signed up for. We must follow Jesus in basic human kindness. We must humble ourselves, suspend judgment, set aside our earthly politics and live the politics of the Kingdom of Heaven…LOVE!
God did this for us through Jesus so we can do it together!