What is it to be compassionate? Is it simply saying, “I’ll pray for you”, texting a sad face emoji, or feeling bad for someone? To be fair, they are ways of expressing compassion toward another. They are an attempt to let another know that they are not alone in whatever it is they are struggling with. Yet, compassion is also much deeper than that. The Greeks had a word for compassion which seems to express it more powerfully than an emoji ever could. The word is splagchnizomai. The word means to feel something deeply, in our guts or at our core. So much so, that it moves us.
What is surprising about this word, is that it is used to describe the character of God. In the ancient world, that is not how people thought of god or the gods. The Stoics for example, thought of god or gods as apatheia, from which we get the word apathy. Gods were distant, and aloof. They saw humans as their playthings and they had little, if any, concern for us. Yet the picture of God in the Bible is very, very different. He is not known by apatheia, but splagchnizomai.
When Jesus sees a widow, in pain, in grief, as she prepares to bury her only son outside the city of Nain, He has splagchnizomai. So much so, that He breaks with convention, approaches the coffin of her dead son, and brings him back to life. When approached by a man with the terrible disease of leprosy He once again shows splagchnizomai. This time, touching the man and making him clean. On other occasions it is healing those who are sick, or feeding those who are hungry, or addressing the yearning for God inside everyone of us. Over and over again we see Jesus moved to compassion.
Yet, it is not information that God is compassionate when Jesus acts this way. In the Old Testament, when Nehemiah reflected on the failure of the people of Israel, he also reflected on the character of God. In Nehemiah 9: 17, he wrote, “They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them.”
This is the nature of God. Perhaps you are hungry and thirsty, or alone? Perhaps you are in pain or experiencing illness? Maybe, you are yearning to know God more deeply? Know that he has splagchnizomai for you.
His means for expressing this to us? His people. In Colossians 3: 12, Paul writes, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Paraphrase, be like me. Share the heart of God.
My hope is that if you are in need of compassion, you may know it, and my hope is, that the people of God, will see as God sees and act as He acts, and be conduits of splagchnizomai to our world.