Our aim as Christians should always be to have compassion on people. But don’t get this confused with having compassion on the delusions that hold them.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know the difference between the two.
I walked with Paul for a long time. He was a weekly participant in a group for men seeking freedom from sexual addictions, and in a lot of ways, he was an ideal member of our group: With remorse, he openly confessed his repeated sexual sins; he spoke with tears about his wife’s mental illness that she refused to accept, and he always listened attentively to the other men as they shared what they were going through.
I liked Paul, and I felt an incredible amount of compassion for him. And so I focused on listening and comforting him, which seemed so much more important than the fact that he wasn’t taking simple yet important steps that would help him in his recovery.
In all this, I was missing something really important: Paul wasn’t truly taking responsibility for his unwanted sexual behaviors.
In other words, my compassion for Paul got twisted up into the delusion he was living.
Over the years, I’ve found this is rather common. And unfortunately, I think it’s becoming a widespread problem that’s keeping people in bondage to the evils surrounding us.
Here’s a fitting analogy. A child is walking in the woods, listening to the birds and taking in the beauty surrounding her. Suddenly, she hears a loud “Snap!” and her ankle seethes with an unbearable pain. She’s stepped on a bear trap and its metal teeth are digging deep into her lower leg. Adults hear her screams and come running from every direction, but when one of them goes to remove the trap, she screams even louder, “Stop! Stop! You’re making it worse!”
The adults are compassionate people and they feel bound: Compassion for the girl calls for the trap to be removed, but compassion for the girl also calls for them to heed her cries and not cause her more pain.
This is what I felt for Paul.
But I was confused just as these well-meaning adults were confused. Here’s an important reality: Compassion for the trapped one is not the same as compromising with the trap.
If it can, every trap will increase its victim’s pain when he or she attempts to remove it. And when the pain increases, the trap will tell its victim it’s because he or she cannot live without it. The trap’s goal is to get the trapped one to believe the real problem is trying to be free. Over time, the trap’s goal is to weave these lies into a delusion: There is no trap on your leg. What you thought was a trap is only you.
I’m speaking of course of sin and evil.
Like the trap in the woods, sin wanted Paul (and you and me) to believe the real problem is pain. Sin would have us wrap its wound roundabout with gauze and pillows, would have us all pretend we don’t see its teeth sinking deep into flesh, would have us line up to donate blood so the wounded ones among us can keep bleeding.
Superhero movies have it wrong. Real evil doesn’t have to make a scene. It is happy to come in silently and undetected. It is happy to look like goodness, so long as it gets to rule in the end.
If we are to be people of compassion, we must be compassionate with people but vigilantly ruthless with sin and its deception.
The metal teeth must be removed.
But before we go rushing off to call out sin wherever we see it, we have to remember the person. Why does the Savior wait until the end of time to separate sheep from goat (Matthew 25:31ff), wheat from tare (Matthew 13:24ff)? Because “lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them” (Matthew 13:29).
In like manner, when we clang loudly about sin, we can inadvertently miss the one bound by sin. Remember sin’s teeth are in human flesh, and that dear person is bleeding in the woods, far from home. Remember, too, that sin deceives its victims into believing it is them. Those we want to help may go running the other direction if they can’t tell where we’re taking aim.
Why does Jesus wait? Compassion.
We, too, as we walk with the Paul’s of the world, must be willing to wait, to walk long with others, to build trust, and to pray. Surgery is a delicate matter, especially for those who cannot tell the difference between who they are and the metal teeth embedded in them.
Simultaneously, why does Jesus call sinners to repent? Compassion.
Like Him, we also must not come under sin’s delusion. For compassion’s sake, we must always remember sin’s metal teeth are tearing at flesh with evil intent. No matter what people say, sin’s power and deception bring death (Romans 6:23), and we do not do anyone any favors by pretending it’s not so.
Jesus, you are patient with us. Give us eyes to see clearly and deliver us from sin’s delusions that we may be your allies in freeing those caught in sin. Grant us your patience. Grant us your compassion and help us to distinguish it from compromise.
Question: Have you ever found yourself or others confusing compassion for people with compassion for sin? What helps you distinguish compassion from compromise?
Thank you so much, Josh. This and other recent posts of yours are opening my eyes. I am seeing more clearly re a situation with my daughter, and how I have not had the courage to express my deepest convictions, in the family.
Fear of conflict, and a habit of keeping things to myself.
I am going to talk with a wise person at church.
Grace and peace to you, Hilary. I’m glad you have wise counsel at your church.