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The Free Online Dictionary defines compassion as ‘deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it’; the Oxford English Dictionary has ‘pity inclining one to be helpful and merciful’. Compassion is, by definition, directed towards people in need, and particularly, people in need who have no means of getting themselves out of that need.

When Moses asked God to show him his glory [Exodus 33:18] God’s response was describe his compassion:

‘I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion’ [33:19].

‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin’ [34:6,7].

Here the human need that attracts God’s compassion is our guilt. In his compassion he forgives our sin and rebellion. This compassion is neither merited nor deserved by us. It is entirely an act of God’s will, an act of his mercy, an act of his grace:

‘Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them.
Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return’ [Psalm 78:38,39].

‘But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness’ [Psalm 86:15].

This gracious compassion of God towards us is also expressed in his reducing, reversing or revoking the just judgement that our sin incurs:

‘… when you and your children return to the LORD your God … then the LORD your God … will have compassion on you’ [Deuteronomy 30:2,3].

‘Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men’ [Lamentations 3:32,33].

‘Who is a God like you, who pardons sin
  and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance?
You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.
You will again have compassion on us;
  you will tread our sins underfoot
  and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea’ [Micah 7:18,19].

[Represented in parable] ‘The the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt’ [Matthew 18:27 KJV].

God’s compassion is not limited to the context of our guilt and the judgement it incurs.  Jesus, the Son of God, revealed God’s compassion towards us in a range of our human needs and suffering:

He was moved with compassion by our spiritual lostness and ignorance:

‘When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things’ [Mark 6:34].

He was moved with compassion by our physical suffering and physical needs:

‘When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick’ [Matthew 14:14; see also 20:34; Mark 1:41; 8:2].

He was moved with compassion by the presence of human death:

‘And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier; and … he said Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.’ [Luke 7:13,14 KJV].

He was moved with compassion by our bondage to Satan:

[Having delivered a man from demonic bondage] ‘Jesus … saith to him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee’ [Mark 5:19 KJV; see also 9:22].

Let us never think for a moment that God is hard-hearted towards us. The Scripture testifies to his compassion. The incarnate Christ demonstrated and taught his compassion. We the humans, we the guilty, we the needy ones, are, by his will, by his choice, the objects of his compassion.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2013, 2016