Does sympathy require action?

Can you experience true sympathy towards another but do nothing in response? When you watch people suffering the effects of famine, hear of genocide, see a homeless person begging for money, can you feel sympathy but not do something about the problem?

Consider these opening words of Octavius Winslow, 19th century preacher (in the US and London) in his The Sympathy of Christ with Man: Its Teaching and its Consolation New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, pp iii-iv.

Much that passes for sympathy, and is really so, as commonly understood, is deficient in this one essential element, and needs to be remodeled. There is poetry and there is beauty in real sympathy; but there is more- there is action. True sympathy may exist impotent to aid, we concede, and its silent expression may not, in some instances, be the less grateful and soothing; but the noblest and most powerful form of sympathy is not merely the responsive tear, the echoed sigh, the answering look- it is the embodiment of the sentiment in actual help.

In this book he takes up the action oriented sympathies of Christ. We have a high priest who sympathizes with our state AND acts to do something about it.

Does true sympathy lead to action?

I believe so. Now, I want to be clear that it does not always lead to removing the suffering. It does not always mean immediate and direct help. There are times where the help is indirect. Consider the Scriptures in that the Lord hears the cries of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt and rescues them…some 400 years later. We can’t say that his action was deficient.

Our sympathies may lead to,

  • speaking the truth in love
  • comfort
  • pursuing justice
  • educating others who can do something
  • praying
  • not rescuing someone too quickly from their own tragic choices
  • inviting another to get some help

So, if you feel sympathy and helpless about doing something of value. Think again. What action does the Lord enable you to do “at such a time as this”?


Filed under Christianity, Insight, Psychology, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Does sympathy require action?

  1. Scott Knapp

    it’s so refreshing to hear the word “sympathy” being used properly again, after so many years of being beaten over the head with those tired, old “empathy vs. sympathy” and “sympathy means pity” lines. Thanks for restoring a perfectly appropriate word to it’s proper place in our vernacular.

  2. john freeman

    Biblically sympathy always seems to include acts of mercy. Of course, Biblically speaking, mercy always includes 3 important components — mercy discerns; it is intentional, not sentimental. Mercy disrupts; it challenges the common conceptions; and mercy deters; it hopes to end in changing the course of life of the one who receives it.

    John Freeman, Harvest USA.

  3. prayloverun

    I really enjoyed this blog today. I completely agree with everything you have said. Christ does require us to act but not save, He does the saving, we are just the hands.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.