Thursday, December 02, 2010


I hate horror films, hate watching anything with gratuitous or comedy violence but always seem drawn to reading/watching the most depressing, traumatic, horrible real-life stuff. I had a good cry yesterday watching this documentary telling this incident from the perspective of the victim's friends while I sorted and folded clothes.

Sometimes I wonder why I crave knowing about all this stuff, know about all the hurt in the world, I avidly read books about/written in Afghanistan. I don't exactly enjoy it. But I want to know it, I want to be aware of it, I want my heart to break for it and for those people.

I was also thinking - what's the difference between sympathy and empathy? I've looked up a lot of dictionary definitions and these are the common ideas which surface: Sympathy seems to be about being understanding, supportive and feeling pity for a person's situation. Empathy is also that, but then there's also this other side to it that is about being able to relate or co-experience the emotions related to that situation. I want to sympathise yes. But I want to empathise even more, that's what real love is isn't it? Sharing burdens, getting alongside people and grieving with them. I always find it easy to empathise with people when I've been through a similar situation myself, like when I meet lonely foreigners because I have been a lonely foreigner myself.

I know empathy is a God thing - thinking of advent Jesus didn't only do sympathy. He was moved with compassion yes, but then he came and became human - now that's empathy in every sense of the word. He came and co-experienced our human-ness. He lived in poverty, weakness, shame. He experienced all wealth and depth of emotions - delight to despair.

But then he went and suffered and died and took our punishment - that was more than just empathy. What Jesus did on the cross - that was a sacrifice of great mercy, great love and great power. It made a way for us to be reunited with a perfect, just, enormous God - that's no small feat! It wasn't sharing our suffering, sharing our experiences or our emotions, it was going much further than that - taking the punishment on our behalf so we don't have to. There's not way I can empathise with what Jesus went through on the cross, my mind stumbles and falls flat when I try to grasp it even just a little bit.

I always come back to Him - Jesus. I didn't even intend to just there. An important tangent though I think.

Because sympathy, empathy - they are both good, important, wholesome, meaningful and sincere expressions of love but if they're just feelings, they become stagnant and pointless. They have to be lived out and about giving - but then that can be costly and hard, and how does that have any impact anyway? I don't want to just be "nice".

Hmmm... this is going to have to be a two part-er.

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