Compassion Trumps Obedience

It’s time to call suffering what it is, to rebuke wrong doing, and rescue the hurting from unnecessary, avoidable injustice. Why do we fail to take another’s suffering, especially in the case of marriage or family, lightly? Because we fail to value and represent Jesus accurately.

When Jesus was crucified, one thief blasphemed Christ and sought relief. Another was moved to repentance. Each one represents a response to Jesus. We choose self or Christ; pride or mercy; my way or God’s way.  One condemned sinner sees his sin and throws himself on God’s mercy. The other feels entitled to Christ’s withheld power. (Luke 23:39)

It’s easy to see the heart of an abusive individual in the arrogance of the unrepentant thief. Something I find more striking is the faith-filled rebuke of the believing criminal. In agony, on the verge of death, at the expense of a small comfort provided by silence, he rebuked his peer, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:40-41). Can you imagine how much that speech cost? Consider the price: feet nailed below, hands above, every breath dependent on agonizing pain and ripping flesh. This is love–love for his sinning neighbor and the glory of Christ.

This, then, is the price of a godly rebuke.

Women who disclose abuse, especially in a clergy or church setting,  may be met with skepticism, judgment, or harsh treatment. As someone who understands the dynamics of abuse and loves the Body of Christ, I struggle with embarrassment and anger, righteous indignation, a cry of justice and truth at these responses. How can we sing “Who is on the Lord’s Side?” answer, “Savior, we are thine” while failing to listen and love well? Why do we fail to rebuke sinning husbands and men?

It seems there are multiple answers. Please comment below or share your thoughts; it would be great to receive a roundhouse of answers:

  1. Lack of Love: We fail to love others–including the abuser–well. We would rather excuse his suffering than risk what it takes to rebuke him and call him to repentance. In this way, we also fail to love victims of abuse as well. We value other things (listed below) more.
  2. Hard heart: A harsh, unbelieving response reveals the heart of the listener. Often, there is greater commitment to the letter of the law than the Spirit of the law. It’s easier to obey rules and check off boxes than live by grace. Marriage is the priority. Headship is assumed; submission is suspect.
  3. Comfort and Convenience: We do what we know. Pastors and church leaders feel a burden of competency, applying solutions based on past experience before wading into deep, unknown waters. When this is the case, we lean on our own understanding, missing signs of abuse and oppression altogether.
  4. Personal Guilt: As fallen people, we fail to confront those whose struggle echoes our own. King David failed to address Amnon’s abuse of his sister, perhaps because he was reminded of his own violation of Bathsheba. Like him, we abdicate personal responsibility due to guilt, shame, or a desire to avoid reminders of past failure.
  5. Worry/Pride: Dependence on self leads to prideful responses. When abuse is disclosed, it’s generally significant. Leaders may see it as a reflection of themselves and their ministry. Instead of taking a risk, individuals are given platitudes like “Love covers a multitude of sin” or “God hates divorce.”  Abuse is downplayed, ignored, or swept it under the carpet to protect “the Lord’s name.”
  6. Exaltation of Suffering: We put others (and ourselves) in Jesus’ place when we should see ourselves in the thieves’ place. Our suffering does not save the world. We are not called to die for another’s sin. Jesus already did that. Instead, we are called to love others by exposing their sin and pointing them to Christ.
  7. Ignorance: We misunderstand the priorities of Scripture. Corporate worship and obedience takes precedence over personal worship and obedience. Appearance is reality.
  8. Desensitization: We watch (or participate in) violence regularly, especially via media. Repeated destruction in the absence of pain or consequences trains us to see other’s suffering as inconsequential; other’s suffering is 2-dimensional vs. 3-dimensional.

I’d love to hear other ideas…

How do we change it? Is it as simple as addressing some of the issues above?

  • Listen to Jesus. The book of John is evidence that Jesus’ focus is loving people over and above keeping the law. Love fulfills the law (Romans 13:8-10). To the Jews who challenged Jesus breaking the Sabbath, He said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me…” (John 5:39). 
  • Seek to see each situation objectively without an eye to solutions. Listen, ask questions, express loving care.
  • Address your own heart with brokenness and humility. Be open and vulnerable about personal struggles. Own them. Take personal responsibility. Then courageously confront others regardless of their similarities to ones’ self.
  • Imitate Jesus. How does Jesus treat a battered reed or smoldering wick? (Matthew 12:20) He is gentle and lowly, providing rest, an easy burden and light yoke (Matthew 11:28-30). What suffering will you endure for the cause of Christ? Are you willing to bear another’s burden at the cost of your own comfort?

According to Jesus and the Word of God, compassion trumps obedience.

“…if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7)

We must guard against our own pride, desire for comfort, misunderstanding and prioritization of Scripture. When we become self-dependent, self-involved, and self-righteous, we fail to suffer well, loving God and our neighbor with a godly rebuke.

3 thoughts on “Compassion Trumps Obedience

  1. Another thought:
    Unbelief: Unbelief in what God’s Word says. Unbelief in Jesus’ promises. Unbelief in who God says He is. We as believers can “know” these things but our lives reflect our unbelief.

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  2. Hi, Sydney. I agree 100% with what you have written here. I would add (from my experience) that, perhaps, pastors, church leaders, and other brothers in Christ may seek to avoid admitting when they have been “duped”, manipulated, tricked, or otherwise fooled by the charming and personable charisma of the man who is oppressisve in his home life.

    I actually had my pastor of seven years tell me that I was “wrong” about my husband. It took great courage for me to finally speak up about what was going on at home. When I did speak up, I was told that I was wrong! I felt ganged-up upon and deserted.

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    • Bethany, I’m so very sorry. I don’t doubt that pride affects all of us and I can see, from your experience, how painful and destructive it is. I pray that as others read your comments, they examine their own hearts and take time to listen openly and humbly to women who seek their help. Thank you for sharing.

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