Empathy is a valued trait in the Christian faith. As followers of Christ, we are called to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15 NKJV). However, in recent years, some have adopted the term “empath” to refer to those who claim to possess a supernatural ability to physically “feel” the emotions of others. What does the Bible say about empaths and the concept of supernatural empathy?
- The Bible does not use the term “empath” or endorse the concept of supernatural empathy as it is often defined today.
- Scripture calls all Christians to have empathy for others, but this manifests itself in compassion, prayer, service, and sharing the Gospel.
- Claims of supernatural empathy should be evaluated carefully against Scripture to avoid New Age influences.
- Any spiritual abilities are gifts from the Holy Spirit to be used for God’s glory, not personal gain.
- Rather than seeking an emotional experience, Christians are called to bear one another’s burdens and point people to Christ.
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The notion of empaths became popularized through science fiction portrayals of individuals who could telepathically sense the emotions and even physical sensations of others. Today, the term empath is used more broadly to describe people who claim an enhanced ability to feel and absorb the emotions of those around them.
While most do not believe they have psychic powers, many empaths believe they have an innate sensitivity, and some believe it is a spiritual gift. Empaths report being deeply affected by emotional energy, whether positive or negative, to the point they can feel emotions physically. Some even claim the ability to heal others by transmuting negative energy.
The Bible does not explicitly refer to supernatural empaths. However, Scripture has much to say about compassion, serving others, using spiritual gifts, and exercising discernment regarding supernatural claims. When evaluating the notion of empaths, Christians should examine these biblical principles.
Empathy Is a Christian Virtue
Although the term empath does not appear in the Bible, Scripture does commend empathy as a virtue. Being sensitive to the feelings and experiences of others can be a Christlike trait. Jesus is described as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He felt compassion for the hurting and weeping around him (Matthew 20:34, Luke 7:13).
As followers of Christ, we are exhorted to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Bearing one another’s burdens fulfills Christ’s command to love your neighbor (Galatians 6:2). The body of Christ is called to humility, compassion, and shared suffering (1 Corinthians 12:26).
So having a tender heart towards those who are hurting can be a biblical response. However, the type of supernatural empathy claimed by many empaths goes beyond what the Bible teaches. Scripture calls us to show genuine empathy through prayer, tangible assistance, and sharing Christ’s comfort – not seeking a mystical emotional experience.
Spiritual Gifts Should Be Tested
The Bible does mention certain spiritual gifts involving heightened spiritual insight. The gifts of prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, words of knowledge or wisdom, and discerning of spirits involve gaining insight into the spiritual realm (1 Corinthians 12:8-10).
In the Old Testament, the prophet Elisha even seemed to divine Gehazi’s sin remotely in 2 Kings 5:25-27. So could a heightened capacity to sense thoughts and emotions be a spiritual gift? Perhaps – but Scripture always calls for testing any such gifts against the Word.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 instructs: “Do not quench the Spirit, but test everything. Hold fast to what is good.” 1 John 4:1 likewise says: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” Any ability must align with Scripture or else it is not from the Holy Spirit.
While genuine spiritual gifts do exist, Christians should beware of psychics or mediums who claim supernatural powers but teach concepts contrary to the Bible. Deuteronomy 18:10-12 expressly warns against occult practices such as fortune telling, witchcraft, interpreting omens – or anyone “who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens.”
Rather than validating every supernatural claim, Scripture calls believers to careful discernment. We are never to pursue supernatural experiences for selfish gain, but instead use spiritual gifts to serve others, giving glory to God (1 Peter 4:10-11).
Pursuing Experience or Purpose?
Perhaps the greatest danger for Christians enamored with empath abilities is seeking the experience rather than the purpose behind biblical spiritual gifts. Emotional experientialism can even become a form of spiritism. But Scripture focuses on bearing one another’s burdens, not mysterious psychic impressions.
Hebrews 4:15 reminds that Jesus sympathizes with our weaknesses. As His followers, we too are called to bear one another’s burdens – focused outward in service, not focused inward in seeking an emotional experience. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).
The body of Christ is designed to care for its members physically and spiritually (1 Corinthians 12:25-26). But the goal is never to feel another’s pain merely for the experience. Rather, Godly empathy moves us to pray, comfort, serve, and share the Gospel so that others’ suffering might be alleviated.
Avoiding New Age Influence
Lastly, Christians should be wary of New Age influences that might distort the notion of supernatural empathy. The New Age movement promotes touch therapy, energy work, psychic development, and contacting the dead – practices clearly condemned in Scripture (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). Yet New Age concepts stealthily pervade books and websites about empaths.
These sources may treat empathy as a mystical psychic power, teach methods of energy reading and healing, or encourage communicating with spirits. As followers of Jesus, our calling is never to tap into psychic forces or manipulate supernatural energies, but to rely humbly on the Holy Spirit.
1 Timothy 4:1 warns, “In later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” Christians embracing empath mythology may gradually open themselves up to deception. While we should have empathy for New Age adherents just like anyone else who needs Christ, we must not let unbiblical worldviews distort the exercise of godly empathy.
Conclusion: Show Christlike Compassion
The Bible commends empathy, compassion, and bearing one another’s burdens as virtues. However, Scripture also warns against mystical or occult practices that claim supernatural power but oppose God’s Word.
Rather than seeking special spiritual energies or ecstatic experiences, Christians are called to compassion, prayer, service, sharing the Gospel, and tangible acts of love. As we grow in Christlike empathy, our focus should be outward on others – not inward or downward in unhealthy spiritual dynamics.
While the notion of supernatural empaths may appeal to our culture’s appetite for the mystical, a humble willingness to enter into others’ sufferings provides the most powerful testimony of Christ’s love. Let us seek to understand and comfort each other as faithful members of the body of Christ.