I injured my back eight years ago and have since met with a variety of medical professionals as my condition has deteriorated. From X-ray and MRI technicians to radiologists, pain management physicians, nurses, and numerous spine specialists, I have seen excellent health care providers in several different settings.
Not one of them ridiculed me for my pain or blamed me for my condition. The surgeon who performed my July 1 spinal fusion and his staff have taken personal responsibility for my progress, consulting with me often and seeking to ensure my return to health.
It would have been frustrating for these professionals to take a position of moral superiority as if they were somehow better people than me. They do not have my back condition, but I do not face some of the physical challenges they face. They understand that we are all in this together and want the best for their patients. They know that my suffering is not my fault and want to help me get better.
This is precisely the spirit Christians should manifest with those who reject biblical truth and morality. Unfortunately, such compassion can lose in competition with a “culture warrior” attitude of antagonism toward those who are antagonistic toward us.
“Dismay has taken hold on me”
This topic has been resonating with me as I have been reading the book of Jeremiah in my personal Bible study. Just now I was impressed by the prophet’s statement, “My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent, for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Crash follows hard on crash; the whole land is laid waste” (Jeremiah 3:19–20).
This is just one of many examples that lead theologians to call Jeremiah the “weeping prophet.” Here’s another: “My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me. Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people from the length and breadth of the land. . . . For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded; I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me” (Jeremiah 8:18–21).
Here’s another: “Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” (Jeremiah 9:1).
Such compassion is echoed even more fully in the heart of Jesus. When he saw a “great crowd,” Matthew tells us that “he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:14). When he met blind men, “Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they received their sight and followed him” (Matthew 20:34). When he saw the city of Jerusalem, “he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes’” (Luke 19:41–42).
Hebrews tells us, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
“Always preach on hell with a tear in your eye”
Both Jeremiah and Jesus could rebuke sin and sinners with stern boldness. Both stood courageously and sacrificially for biblical truth and morality.
But both also cared deeply for the broken people they were called to serve. They ministered not out of a spirit of moral superiority but a posture of gracious service. Jesus especially modeled this spirit when he washed the feet of the very men who would betray, deny, and forsake him that night (John 13:1–13).
Then he called us to do the same: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (vv. 14–15).
Compassion for hurting people is vital to caring effectively for them. The old saying is still true: People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. Ken Medema says in one of his songs, “Don’t tell me I have a friend in Jesus until you show me I have a friend in you.”
As our sinless Savior shows, compassion for sinners is not compromise with sin. Rather, it is empathy with fellow humans as a beggar helping beggars find bread. It is a demonstration of our mutual humanity.
My wife taught our sons as they were growing up, “Lost people act like lost people. So did I. So did you.” A wise mentor once told me, “There is no sin I cannot commit. And there is no sin you cannot commit.”
I also heard a pastor once say, “Beware the person who preached on hell as if he liked it.” Another advised, “Always preach on hell with a tear in your eye.”
“There are such things as Christian tears”
The greater my back pain, the more I needed the help of physicians. The more people reject our Lord, the more they need our Lord.
Let’s pray today for the heart of God for the people we are called to reach. I believe that “weeping prophets” are empowered prophets. The more we are able to minister with empathy, the more we will draw souls to our Savior.
John Stott stated, “The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them.”
Will you weep them today?