The story of Job in the Bible has always intrigued me. Here is a man who is fully devoted to God even when he loses his family and possessions. He then developed painful sores over his entire body. Pain can change our thinking as we become focused on ourselves. At least that’s my experience. Even with an affliction as trivial as a head cold I feel sorry for myself and become impatient if it lasts more than 2-3 days. And that’s if everything else is going great in my life. But the story of Job is that he develops painful sores that stops him dead in his tracks after he has lost everything. He needs to make arrangements for his children’s funerals, not to mention his servants. And then he needs to begin the rebuilding process of his home, his business, his life. This alone would be overwhelming without the illness that could take his own life.
Enter 3 friends who give us a picture of compassion. We read in Job 2:11-12 that these 3 friends contact one another to make plans to visit Job when they heard of his circumstance. What’s remarkable about this part of the story is that these 3 friends did not live in the same neighborhood, town or even the same county. They didn’t have cell phones or internet. They had to make an enormous effort to contact one another and travel to see Job compared to the effort it would take today. But they did it. And then we read in verse 13… “And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was great.”
Compassion is more than sympathy or even empathy. Compassion recognizes suffering and then does something about it. And the first step of compassion is to understand and experience the suffering of another. Job’s friends had compassion on him as they changed plans and dropped whatever they were doing to be with him. Once they saw Job there was only one thing they could do, which is what compassion requires. They partook in his suffering. They sat with him during the day. They laid next to him during the night. There was nothing else to do. No advice, no planning, no doing, just being. Compassion always begins with understanding the plight of the other person. Compassion is always active, but that action begins with experiencing and understanding the suffering of another.
There are 2 points worth noting from this story: 1) Sympathy is not enough though I need to have sympathy for others. Sympathy is the spark that can light the fire of compassion. But sympathy by itself flickers out as it is drenched with the busyness and the cares of this world. 2) Compassion is real as it actively seeks to alleviate suffering. Compassion is not heard until it is felt, not seen until it is tasted, and not received until it is tangible. And compassion begins with sitting & laying on the ground with the one who is suffering.
Do you have compassion? What suffering is God calling you to alleviate this week?