I’m not sure if I have to cite a presentation from chapel. The following ideas were presented by Dr. McMinn at a chapel on Monday. I really appreciate what he had to say, so I am going to share it with you and see if you have any comments. Before I start, psychologists have shown that the number one helping factor is empathy.
His definition of empathy is the ability to experience a person’s life as they experience it. I always thought it meant knowing how they feel, but this is a more inclusive definition.
There are three building blocks to empathy: techniques such as eye contact and leaning forward (but then we assume competence and forget to let the spirit move), moral philosophy and the doctrine of sin. You may wonder, “What does the doctrine of sin have to do with empathy?” Let me explain.
Augustine and Pelagius were contemporaries. Augustine believed in original sin and sin as a state and act. Pelagius believed in moral choice (one can choose right or wrong) and therefore he believed that it is potentially possible to live a sinless life. At the council of Carthage, the church leaders condemned Pelagius’ beliefs as heretical. At the Council of Orange the church restated the doctrine of original sin. Even now, R.C. Sproul realizes that the church is held captive by Pelagius. Simple statements such as “If we take one step towards God, He’ll walk the rest of the way to us,” and, “God helps those who help themselves” reflect Pelagius’ teachings.
Now you still don’t know what this has to do with empathy, do you? Well, if you believe in moral choice (that everyone can choose right or wrong) then you will be critical of those suffering because you believe they simply made bad choices. You will tell them to “just stop it.” There is a nice parody by Bob Newhart that reflects that. I think you can understand why we tend to point fingers with this view, and not be very empathetic.
With Augustine’s view that we are broken, by nature, we are able to be compassionate and merciful. Sinful nature does not choose certain people, but everyone, so no one is any better than anyone else. There is a quote from “Gulag Archipelago,” written by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn that goes like this, “Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.” He was able to empathize with his captors because he knew he was like them. We like to compare ourselves to one another and figure out who’s most valuable. Karl Barth pointed out this absurd contrast from Philippians 2:1-8: The only one human that has a right to be above us, humbled Himself to death on a cross.
So practically speaking, what does this mean?
1. When I don’t like someone, it is usually an empathetic failure because I haven’t entered into their world (listened to them and learned their stories). On PLIA we walked the children home after they came to our program. Seeing where they lived made me just that much more involved in and aware of their lives –> empathetic.
2. Forgiveness has 5 steps: recall the hurt, EMPATHIZE with the offender (this doesn’t mean you can see yourself doing it, but knowing that you’re broken and are hurtful too), altruistic gift, commit and hold on.
3. Compassionate Co-Journeying. Norman Rockwell’s drawing called “Saying Grace” illustrates this well. One can infer that there was no room in the busy restaurant, so the old lady and her son had to sit with these rough young men. We must go into complicated, busy places and bring grace and our faith. Relating this back to last weekend (Good Friday and Easter), Jesus’ incarnation is the ultimate compassionate co-journeying. He came from heaven down to our sinful, hurt-filled earth so he could take our hurt.
Assuming you read all that, what do you think? Do you have any questions?