Compassion rather than apathy
Sometimes Scripture speaks to us with a command, telling us what we must do; sometimes with a prohibition, announcing what we must not do; sometimes with a warning, alerting us to dangers in life; sometimes with a lesson taught; and sometimes with an example, enabling us to see the heart of God lived out in the life of a person.
1 Thessalonians 2:17 – 3:5 shares such an example that stands out in sharp contrast to what we often find in the world around us.
What we find in the world around us too often: Many years ago, someone who signed her name as “Ashamed of my species in L.I.,” wrote to Ann Landers,
“I just read something in the New York News that made my blood boil: The parents of a 13-year-old are suing the town of Babylon, Long Island, for $21 million, alleging that a lifeguard at the municipal pool refused to save their son from drowning. He said, ‘It wasn’t my area.’
“According to court papers, the boy was swimming in the crowded pool when suddenly he began to drown. Despite repeated pleas from his friends and other horrified bystanders, the lifeguards on duty failed to go to the aid of the boy. Finally two of the boy’s friends pulled him out of the pool. Not one of the lifeguards attempted to resuscitate the lad as his life slipped away by the poolside. He died 30 minutes later in a hospital.
“An observer said, ‘She [the lifeguard] waved me away when I told her someone was down there, at the bottom of the pool. She told the other lifeguard to help. He said it wasn’t his area.’
“The prosecuting attorney charged the death was the result of ‘pure indifference—the most shameful disregard for a human life I have ever come across. They just didn’t want to be bothered.’
“What is happening to the world? Where are compassion and concern for one’s fellow man?”
The sin of apathy is not new. Several decades ago, Helen Keller remarked, “Science may have found a cure for most evils, but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all—the apathy of human beings.”
But God is not a God of apathy; the God we meet in the Bible is a God of deep compassion. Therefore, when God establishes His own heart in a person, that person begins to show the compassion of God, caring deeply for others. That’s what we find in Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians. Over and over again we see evidence of his deep care for these people.
In 1 Thessalonians 2:17, he writes, “But, brothers and sisters, when we were orphaned by being separated from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.”
In 1 Thessalonians 3:1, he shares, “So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens.”
And in 1 Thessalonians 3:5, he repeats, “For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.”
Compassion toward us is the heart of God, and compassion from us is the way we live out the reality of God’s heart in us. Because God’s heart for the Thessalonians was alive in Paul, Paul cared deeply about them. (There is no smidgen of apathy in what he writes.) When God’s heart is alive in us, we, too, should find ourselves caring deeply for others.
Such care may change the world! As C. Neil Strait points out, “Love is the ingredient that makes every relationship in life, whatever it is, a little better. Love has a capacity to mend the broken, heal the hurting, and inspire the despairing. Love that reaches beyond the misunderstandings and the failures is a love that unites and encourages. Such a love is one of our world’s greatest needs.”