Merriam Webster defines compassion as “a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble etc. After reading this I had to ask myself if I am someone who just wants to “feel” like helping or someone who actually takes the steps to help. Sort of like the faith and works scripture. I like to think of myself as a take action type of person.
This week a horrible evil took place at a bible study in Charleston SC with the killing of 9 Christians by a sick young man. The headline the next morning read “Church attack kills nine”. Almost as much outrage & focus has been placed on a post-it type advertisement which obscured part of that headline. The ad was for a local gun store & range offering a special discount package. People called it “tasteless”, “outrageous” and “lacking any compassion”. The gun store called it “terrible timing” and the newspaper apologized calling it a “regrettable coincidence”.
There is a true irony in a post-it ad for guns atop a headline describing the result of a gun attack, but I saw it a bit different. Please be patient and work with me here a little before you stop reading. From a practical standpoint, what is the only thing that could have stopped or mitigated an attack like this? The simple truth is another gun in the hands of one of the church members.
Democratic strategist Bob Shrum said on MSNBC Friday that “I cannot imagine the horror that could’ve occurred if people were sitting around with concealed weapons” (at that bible study).
Well I can imagine, and I imagine the gunman dead and fewer church members dead or wounded. Another person at that bible study with a gun was the only possible “cure” so why not talk about it right away because it could happen again tomorrow. It would be like getting a big gash in your arm that needed surgery and then waiting a few days to have it addressed. If you do that, the wound has to be totally opened back up, it’s a lot harder to fix and it leaves a bigger scar. We must learn that the compassionate thing is to address problems immediately for to do otherwise makes the problem worse and allows for or requires the introduction of errant or less effective “fixes”. I am not suggesting that guns “fix” things, but they can be a significant asset or deterrent in such cases. Why was it “lacking compassion” for a gun ad to be right next to that headline the very next morning? Why was it similarly lacking compassion for a local gun store in Tulsa’s response to begin offering free concealed carry classes to clergy?
Before you stir those questions around in your head too much and throw the baby out with the bath water, let me tell a true story which might illustrate what I believe is a problem of confusion in America and in the church in particular relating to compassion. A few years back some friends we know were having marital problems. The guy came up to me on a Sunday and indicated that he was going to file for divorce the next day and proceeded to “throw his wife under the bus”. I quickly stopped him as this was blatant gossip and I stated strongly (I know it’s hard for some of you to believe that of me) that I would only listen if they both were present. To my surprise, this set in motion a request for them to come over to our house the next day. So on the very day divorce filings were to have been started they are in our home seeking counsel. In our effort to show true biblical compassion for their struggle we took them to the scriptures in Malachi 2 where God emphatically states that He hates divorce and goes further still explaining that a runaway divorce rate among His people is the reason for unanswered prayer. That last point is a sobering thought to consider for the church as a whole but not to be gotten into in this blog.
They took our stark and blunt advice to heart, re-committed themselves to the marriage and just a few months ago sent us one of the most cherished thank-you’s we have ever received as they welcome another baby into their family.
So was it compassion to hit them with confronting truth about divorce on that very day? Seriously, at what point do you warn those headed off a cliff into crisis. I get the feeling many would have given them a list of CR support groups to attend during & after the divorce. Others might have suggested a good attorney and then errantly call that compassion (because he really is a good attorney). But no, what they needed in that very hour of crisis was the one thing that could save their marriage and that was giving them something tangible, direct and true – God’s compassionate word. Impotent compassion would have full-stopped at just wanting or feeling like helping giving only an illusion of concern.
So as I return to the side arm issue I cannot but remind everyone that Jesus did in fact command his disciples to own sidearms (Luke 22:36). But what about “turn the other cheek”? This is why Jesus also sent us the Holy Spirit so we could know the right thing to do in different circumstances. We must be spiritually prepared for one circumstance (not defending myself) and mentally prepared for the other (drawing our “sword”).
We have no idea if or how many times some group of Pharisaical zealots tried to attack Jesus and the disciples to no avail due to the presence of those swords, but we do know that that last night in the garden Jesus had to basically tell them “not this time” when they drew their swords in defense from Judas and company. And this is one of the few exceptions I can think of in history when the putting away of defensive weapons (effectively surrendering) helped in bringing about the most compassionate and victorious event in all of eternity – Jesus’ ultimate display of compassion in surrendering to death on the cross. And that would have been the end of the story except in His case, being God, death was defeated, forgiveness of sin was made available and we who embrace His true compassion have an inheritance with Him in eternity.