Saturday, April 13, 2013

The failure of empathy. . .

I have noted but not commented on Rob Portman's change of heart with respect to gay marriage, now that he has a gay son.  It was both too easy to comment and also too difficult.  The anguish of a parent is often the conflict of love and principle.  But a reader commenting on a comment about this change has put in a few words the tragic dilemma of our modern culture.

"... "the failure of empathy": a culture where "feeling sorry" for someone trumps all ethical and moral decision-making..."  Indeed, the only empathy or sympathy we know is one in which we approve of the very thing that troubles us and the only sorrow we can feel for others is one in which we sacrifice principle and values to approve, support, agree, and advocate for them.

Sympathy, empathy, these are good things.  We are wounded for those wounded.  We hurt for those who hurt.  We sorrow with those who weep.  Yet neither empathy nor sympathy require us to give up principle or alter our moral compass.  We can feel sorry for those in troubled circumstance and we can and should be moved to compassion.  But what good is compassion that has no roots, moral values that shift with the wind, and empathy that leads to everyone doing what is right in their own eyes?

I fear that our culture does not understand such empathy or compassion and, if that is true, finds it hard to accept a God who is both repulsed by our sin and yet loves us in spite of those sins -- but who loves us enough not to leave us where He found us.  He makes a path to forgiveness in which the wrong is held up as wrong yet forgiven by the sacrificial love of another, a Savior who comes neither at our request nor because we want Him.  He comes to us not to excuse or justify or leave us in our sin -- or worse, to change it from sin to righteousness.  He comes to claim us as His own and to clothe the filthy rags of our righteousness with His own perfect holiness.  In this love, we are reborn.  The Holy Spirit not only opens our heart to believe in this love but transforms us to renounce worldly passion and desire, to live self-controlled and upright lives, and to learn holiness form Him who has made us holy.  Such a righteousness is never our possession alone but always worked in conjunction with the Christ in us.  The result of this work of redemption is not an end to the struggle but the struggle become even more earnest.  We recognize the battle which we did not know or see before.  We fight in Christ against the old Adam, the sinful self, still rooted in desire and seeking pleasure at all costs.  We suffer in the process -- for no one who sacrifices desire for holiness does so without cost.  Yet this is path that we are called to walk with Christ and in Christ.

We can do no other.... not in the Church for the sake of the world nor as parents for the sake of our children.  I am sad when the only love the world will tolerate is one that refuses to condemn anything and in the name of empathy and sympathy accepts all things as equal in worth and value.  There is no room for a Savior there.  Worse, there is no real love there at all.


Anonymous said...

I agree. Unfortunately, the conservative Church has done little to remedy the situation. We have too often gone the opposite direction and refused to love unless the person is worthy of our love -and this, too, is not the forgiveness of Christ.

I talk with a great many Christians who face homosexual desires. The ones I hear from most are those who believe sex is reserved for male/female relationships and so strive for celibacy or for a heterosexual marriage.

These people ask, plead, beg for a message of forgiveness from the Church yet, in a culture in which too many pastors are political wonks seeking the holy grail of the perfect "natural law argument" against gay marriage, messages of forgiveness have become more and more scarce.

If we can not forgive even those who strive to obey God, then how can we complain when the world sees our "love" as hate and falls for the trap that love never condemns?

Anonymous said...

Agreed completely. Emotion is now so heavily used in our culture it's a disaster--and we all our told to "follow our heart" or if we don't agree, we are heartless people.

Another big failure we have in our society is that we fail to make distinctions. For example, loving the person, not the sin. That means, out of love, addressing these issues and not letting them go on to sin--for the ultimate benefit of the other person.