Empathy – A Brief Primer

Galatians 6:2 – ESV

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

What does it mean to bear another’s burden? When a brother or sister says to you “I am hurting.”, how can you shoulder that pain with them without having experienced it for yourself?

For many of us, this is a request of impossibility. Or at least, that is how we tend to see it. Our response to “I am hurting.”, is often “Let me tell you why you are hurting.”, or “Here’s how you can stop hurting (and therefore, stop telling me about it).”, or “You just need to…”

But none of these responses fulfil the law of Christ. According to the book of Galatians, our call is to a position of sharing, and not to a position of dispensing. What do I mean by this? That we are not called to be the ones to “fix” our brothers and sisters, but rather to be the ones who take upon ourselves their burden and by doing so, lighten it. Now, to us, often self-interested human beings, this command is in and of itself, burdensome. “Are you asking me to take on someone else’s problems?! I already have my own!”

My answer? “Yes.” But it’s not really my answer, it’s the answer provided by the Word of God.

Romans 15:1 – NIV
We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

Galatians 5:14 – ESV
For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Exodus 23:5 – NIV
If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help them with it.

Wow, right? Sounds like a tough call. But it is not, the same Word Of God also tells us:

1 Peter 5:7 – WEB
casting all your worries on him, because he cares for you.

So, it really isn’t us who do the bearing after all. It is the work of Christ in us that allows us to fulfil His command. On our own steam, it really is impossible to “bear another’s burden”. Life is hard enough on its own, and we can’t even handle our own problems alone. But by relying on the Spirit and power of God, and following what He tells us to do, we can not only bear our own burdens, but we can shoulder the burdens of others.

When we “fulfill the law of Christ”, we won’t respond with platitudes, or try to tell others how to “fix” themselves (in an uncaring, non-Christlike manner). We will listen, understand, spend time with those who are hurting, and avoid the selfish tendency to shut down the (very real) pain of others.