Empathy and Orthodoxy

Suffering is an important topic, but how we handle it can make all the difference between adding to that suffering or comforting the sufferer.

“Loving well those facing the great trials of life requires Christians to develop both pastoral sensitivity and theological instincts. Empathy and orthodoxy both matter. Benevolence and truth are meant to nourish one another, not to serve as two distinct options. When tenderheartedness and conviction are together, they bring life, but separated they can be disastrous. Discovering a perfect balance that allows a person to know the “right” response to every challenge is not the goal. “

 

One benefit of being the church librarian is I get the fun job of finding new books for the church. The downside is that when I flip through the new additions, I get engrossed and end up wanting to get a copy for myself because I can’t mark the church’s copy. Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering is one of those books.

Suffering is an important topic, but how we handle it can make all the difference between adding to that suffering or comforting the sufferer. Early in this book, author Kelly Kapic notes that ever since the Enlightenment, there’s a subtle sense that we can analyze God by putting Him and His ways under a microscope, as it were, and find an explanation. Perhaps there’s even a subtle pressure to explain. But God is bigger than that, and we aren’t always privy to what He has not made plain. Also people are more complicated. Just because we may have a plausible explanation for a person’s trial doesn’t mean that an explanation alone is enough. We aren’t just walking brains, but whole people with a complex emotional side too. You can’t logic a person out of grief or anxiety. Believe me, I’ve tried and hurt more than I helped.

Kapic writes about the need for pastoral sensitivity and theological instincts. You and I may not be pastors, but I think we need to cultivate these traits as sisters or brothers in the pew:

“Loving well those facing the great trials of life requires Christians to develop bothpastoral sensitivity and theological instincts. Empathy and orthodoxy both matter. Benevolence and truth are meant to nourish one another, not to serve as two distinct options. When tenderheartedness and conviction are together, they bring life, but separated they can be disastrous. Discovering a perfect balance that allows a person to know the “right” response to every challenge is not the goal. Rather Christians are those who experience the “faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” even as they cherish “the good deposit” handed down to them from the prophets, apostles, and through the ages (2 Tim. 1:12-14). We cannot rest in the good news of Christ if we devalue the truths of sacred Scripture, but we also need to value experience if those truths are going to be applied and understood in any meaningful way.”1

“There is no theological replacement for knowing people, their problems, the complexities, and the stories. That doesn’t mean you can’t say anything in general, but it does mean there is a world of difference between reading a book about gardening and actually gardening. There is a world of difference between reading a book about caring for people and actually caring for people. To theologize well, we need to love well. We need to care about anthropology (the study of humans) and not just theology (the study of God). Pastoral wisdom and theological instincts must go together. They must serve one another.”2

The Mortification of Spin folks did a podcast with Kelly Kapic about this book. It’s worth a listen.

1.Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering, Kelly M. Kapic, Intervarsity Press, 2017, pg. 24
2. Ibid. pg. 26

Persis Lorenti is an ordinary Christian. You can find her at Tried With Fire and Out of the OrdinaryThis article appeared on her blog and is used with permission.



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