“Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and compassionate.”—EX. 34:6.
1. In what special way did Jehovah reveal himself to Moses, and why is this significant?
ON ONE occasion, God revealed himself to Moses by declaring His own name and qualities. The first ones that he listed were mercy and compassion. (Read Exodus 34:5-7.) Jehovah could have stressed his power or his wisdom. Yet, to Moses, who was seeking reassurance of God’s backing, Jehovah emphasized instead qualities that underscore his willingness to help his servants. (Ex. 33:13) Do you not find it heartwarming that God mentioned these endearing traits ahead of any others? This article will focus on the quality of compassion, a sympathetic awareness of another’s suffering or adversity coupled with a desire to lessen it.
2, 3. (a) What shows that compassion is part of human nature? (b) Why should you be interested in what the Bible says about compassion?
2 Humans were made in God’s image. Accordingly, because Jehovah is compassionate, interest in others’ well-being is rooted in human nature. Even those who do not know the true God often show compassion. (Gen. 1:27) We find many accounts in the Bible where a sense of compassion shines through. Recall the account of the two prostitutes who argued before Solomon over which one of them was the actual mother of a child. When Solomon put them to the test by ordering that the baby be cut in half, the real mother’s compassion was stirred. That moved her to act, even at the cost of giving the child up to the other woman. (1 Ki. 3:23-27) Or recall Pharaoh’s daughter who saved baby Moses’ life. Though she realized that the infant she had found was a child of the Hebrews and should not be kept alive, “she felt compassion for him” and decided to raise the child as her own.—Ex. 2:5, 6.
3 Why should the topic of compassion interest you? Because the Bible urges you to imitate Jehovah. (Eph. 5:1) Yet, while humans were created to be compassionate, our imperfection as descendants of Adam inclines us toward self-interest. Sometimes we may find that it is not easy to decide whether we will help others or concentrate on ourselves. For some, this is an ongoing conflict, or a balancing act. What can help you to develop and maintain your interest in others? First, take time to examine how Jehovah has shown compassion and how others have shown it. Second, consider how you can imitate God’s example and how your doing so is truly beneficial.
JEHOVAH—THE PERFECT MODEL OF COMPASSION
4. (a) Why did Jehovah send angels to Sodom? (b) What does the account about Lot and his daughters teach us?
4 We find many instances where Jehovah’s compassion must have been involved. Think of what God did for Lot. That righteous man was “greatly distressed” by the brazen conduct of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Indeed, God determined that those immoral people deserved to die. (2 Pet. 2:7, 8) God sent angels to rescue Lot. They urged him and his family to flee from the doomed cities. “When he kept lingering, then because of Jehovah’s compassion for him, the [angels] seized hold of his hand and the hand of his wife and the hands of his two daughters, and they brought him out and stationed him outside the city.” (Gen. 19:16) Does that example not indicate that Jehovah is fully aware of the difficult situations in which his faithful people sometimes find themselves?—Isa. 63:7-9; Jas. 5:11, ftn.; 2 Pet. 2:9.
5. How does God’s Word, such as at 1 John 3:17, help us learn to show compassion?
5 Not only has Jehovah shown compassion but he has also taught his people the need to display that quality. Consider the law given to Israel regarding the seizing of a man’s garment as security for a loan. (Read Exodus 22:26, 27.) A hard-hearted lender might have been tempted to seize the debtor’s garment, leaving him without a covering in which to sleep. Yet, Jehovah taught his people to avoid such an unfeeling attitude and course. His people were to be compassionate. Does not the principle reflected in that particular law move us to action? Would we want to leave our brothers out in the cold, so to speak, if there is something that we can do to relieve their suffering?—Col. 3:12; Jas. 2:15, 16; read 1 John 3:17.
6. What lesson can we draw from Jehovah’s persistent efforts to reform the sinful Israelites?
6 Jehovah felt compassion for his people Israel even when they sinned. We read: “Jehovah the God of their forefathers kept warning them by means of his messengers, warning them again and again, because he felt compassion for his people and for his dwelling place.” (2 Chron. 36:15) Should we not feel similar compassion for people who could potentially repent over a sinful life course and gain God’s favor? Jehovah does not want any to be destroyed in the coming judgment. (2 Pet. 3:9) So until God acts to destroy the wicked, let us continue to proclaim his compassionate warning message.
7, 8. Why did one family believe that Jehovah had exercised compassion toward them?
7 Many experiences could be used to illustrate God’s acts of compassion. Consider what happened to the family of a 12-year-old lad whom we will call Milan. It was during a time of ethnic strife in the early 1990’s. Milan, his brother, his parents, and a number of other Witnesses were riding on a bus from Bosnia to Serbia. They were on their way to a convention at which Milan’s parents intended to get baptized. But at the border, soldiers pulled the family off the bus because of their ethnicity; yet, they allowed the other brothers to proceed. After holding the family for two days, the officer in charge radioed his superior to ask what should be done with them. The officer was standing right in front of the family, so all heard the response, “Just take them out and shoot them!”
8 As the officer spoke to his men, two strangers came up to the family and quietly identified themselves as Witnesses. They had heard of the crisis from others on the bus. The two told Milan and his brother to get into their car to cross the border, as the children’s papers were not being checked. The newcomers then told the parents to walk around the back of the border post and meet them on the other side. Milan did not know whether to laugh or to cry at this suggestion. “Do you think they are just going to let us walk off?” his parents asked. Yet, as they walked away, it seemed as if the soldiers were staring right through them. The parents and children were reunited on the other side of the border. They proceeded to the convention city, convinced that Jehovah had answered their desperate prayers for help. We know from the Bible that there have been times when Jehovah did not directly intervene to protect his servants. (Acts 7:58-60) Yet, Milan shares how he felt. He says, “It seemed to me that the angels blinded the soldiers and that Jehovah rescued us.”—Ps. 97:10.
9. How did Jesus respond to the condition of the crowds who followed him? (See opening picture.)
9 We can learn a lesson from Jesus. He felt compassion for the crowds he met, for “they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” How did he react to their pitiful state? “He started to teach them many things.” (Matt. 9:36; read Mark 6:34.) His attitude was in stark contrast to that of the Pharisees, who had no desire to help the common people. (Matt. 12:9-14; 23:4; John 7:49) Do you not feel a yearning, similar to what Jesus had, to feed spiritually famished people?
10, 11. Is compassion always appropriate? Explain.
10 That is not to say that compassion is to be shown in every situation. God’s compassion was appropriate in the Bible examples mentioned above. However, King Saul was disobedient when he showed what he may have felt was compassion. He spared the life of Agag, an enemy of God’s people, and he also spared the best of the flock. Consequently, Jehovah rejected Saul from being king over Israel. (1 Sam. 15:3, 9, 15, ftn.) Jehovah, of course, is the righteous Judge. He can read people’s hearts, and he knows when compassion is not warranted. (Lam. 2:17; Ezek. 5:11) The time is coming when he will execute judgment on all those who refuse to obey him. (2 Thess. 1:6-10) That will not be the time for him to show compassion for those whom he has judged to be wicked. Rather, executing them will be an appropriate expression of God’s compassion for the righteous, whom he will preserve.
11 Clearly, it is not our role to judge whether people should be executed or preserved alive. Instead, we need to do all we can now to help people. So how can we manifest fitting compassion for our fellow man in practical ways? Consider a number of suggestions.
CULTIVATING AND SHOWING APPROPRIATE COMPASSION
12. How can you show a compassionate attitude in your dealings with others?
12 Be helpful in everyday life. Showing compassion for one’s neighbor and Christian brothers is a basic requirement of those who strive to imitate Jesus. (John 13:34, 35; 1 Pet. 3:8) One meaning of compassion is “to suffer together.” A person who shows compassion is moved to relieve others’ suffering, perhaps by helping them out of their difficulties. Seek opportunities to do so! For example, could you help someone by offering to perform a necessary chore, maybe running an errand for him?—Matt. 7:12.
13. What qualities of God’s people become particularly evident in the aftermath of disasters?
13 Share in relief work. The sufferings of those struck by disasters move many to manifest compassion. Jehovah’s people are known for coming forward to help in such times of need. (1 Pet. 2:17) One Japanese sister lived in an area that was seriously damaged by the earthquake and tsunami of 2011. She says that she was “very encouraged and comforted” by the efforts of the many volunteers from elsewhere in Japan and from overseas to repair property damage. She writes: “This experience helped me to realize that Jehovah cares. And fellow Witnesses care about one another. Many brothers and sisters all over the world are praying for us.”
14. How can you assist the sick and the elderly?
14 Assist the sick and the elderly. When we see others experiencing the effects of Adamic sin, we are rightly moved to show compassion. We long to see sickness and aging brought to an end. So we pray for God’s Kingdom to come. In the meantime, we do what we can to assist those in need. Consider what one author wrote about his elderly mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. One day, she soiled her clothes. As she was trying to clean up, the doorbell rang. The visitors turned out to be two Witnesses who regularly called on the woman. The sisters asked if there was anything they could do to help. “It is embarrassing but yes,” the woman replied. The visitors helped her to clean up. Then they made her a cup of tea and stayed for a chat. The son was most grateful. “Hats off to these Witnesses,” he wrote. “They practice what they preach.” Does your compassion for the sick and the elderly move you to do all you can to lessen their suffering?—Phil. 2:3, 4.
15. What important opportunities does our preaching work offer?
15 Help people spiritually. People’s problems and worries move us to want to help them spiritually. The best way we can do that is by teaching them about God and about what his Kingdom will do for mankind. Another way is by helping them to see the wisdom of living by godly standards. (Isa. 48:17, 18) Could you increase the share you are having in the ministry, a work that truly honors Jehovah and manifests your compassion for others?—1 Tim. 2:3, 4.
COMPASSION IS GOOD FOR YOU TOO!
16. How does a compassionate person benefit himself?
16 Mental-health experts say that practicing compassion can improve your health, well-being, and relationships. When you relieve the suffering of others, you will feel happier, more optimistic, less lonely, and less inclined to think negative thoughts. Yes, your showing compassion will benefit you. (Eph. 4:31, 32) Christians who lovingly seek to help others are rewarded with a good conscience, knowing that they are acting in harmony with godly principles. Having such a disposition makes for a more caring parent, a better spouse, and a better friend. Those who are quick to show compassion are, in turn, more likely to receive help and support when they need it.—Read Matthew 5:7; Luke 6:38.
17. Why do you want to cultivate and show compassion?
17 Knowing that compassion is good for you should not be your main reason for wanting to cultivate it. The principal reason should be your desire to imitate and glorify the Source of love and compassion, Jehovah God. (Prov. 14:31) He sets the perfect example for us. May we do all we can, then, to imitate him—to promote warm affection among our brothers and good relations with our neighbors by showing compassion.—Gal. 6:10; 1 John 4:16.