How To Be Compassionate

Do you know how to be compassionate?  It's not as intuitive as you may think.  In fact, many Christians have the wrong idea entirely.

God puts our tasks in front of us each day.  Our job is to live our lives from day to day in as Christ like a manner as possible.  That includes being compassionate toward those we encounter.  But compassion is a deeply personal and private matter.  As with prayer, God expects us to be quiet about it.  Public displays are to be avoided.  And giving and helping are only compassionate when done selflessly.  If you are making yourself feel better, assuaging guilt, currying favor, collecting accolades, then you are not being compassionate.

How does true compassion look in the real world?  A good way to visualize that is to consider a few examples.

A politician campaigns on the promise to give more benefits to the poor.  You vote for him because you want to help those less fortunate than yourself.  Are you being compassionate? The answer is "No."

Compassion is always personal and private.  Voting to give other people's money away is neither compassionate nor charitable.  You might be called to seek out the poor and serve them yourself after the manner of Mother Theresa.  That would be true compassion.  Or, you might wait until you happen to encounter a poor person and take the responsibility of helping that person yourself.  Again, that would be true compassion.  But God makes no allowance for compassion by proxy.  If you want to be compassionate or charitable, you have to do it yourself.  Nothing else counts

Doing it yourself does include giving to charitable organizations whose causes you believe in.  I'm sure God draws no distinction between feeding a poor person yourself, and giving your own money to an organization which feeds the poor.  I'm sure that God wants us to carefully qualify those organizations, and make our gifts quietly or confidentially.  And remember that charitable giving is no substitute for living an otherwise compassionate life.

Compassion never requires credulity or suspension of good judgment.  Whenever I go to my local Walmart I pass a certain intersection inhabited by a man dressed in a poor but proud uniform, bedroll slung over his shoulder, and carrying a cardboard sign reading "Homeless, please help!"  It's always the same man, same bedroll, same sign.  He's been there for months, walking the line of cars stopped at the traffic signal.  I see people giving him money. Are they being compassionate?  Perhaps they are.  But am I being niggardly for refusing to give him anything?  Certainly not.  My observations and common sense tell me that he isn't a proper object for my compassion.  So, I pass him by.  Christian compassion doesn't mean giving to everyone who asks.

Living a compassionate life entails more than giving your stuff away.  In fact, as important as charitable giving is, it is only a small part of overall Christian compassion.  Our job is to be compassionate toward those we encounter each day.  We should treat and regard each person with love, kindness, and respect.  That is what Christ was talking about when he told us to love our enemies.  Of course, the compassionate treatment of an enemy will be different from the compassionate treatment of a close friend.  Jesus never expects us to act the fool.  But he does expect us to love the sinner while at the same time rejecting the sin. Compassion for others does not require compromise of Godly principles.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  Often maintaining Godly principles by telling others "No," rejecting sin, and refusing to participate in unholy practices is the most compassionate course to take.

Remember that all human life should lead toward God and His offer of salvation.  Whatever we do should always be geared toward helping others find their way to Him.  That is the ultimate compassion.