Feeling compassion and sorrow for the suffering of others is a natural human emotion. As Christians, we are called to have Christ-like empathy that moves us to love and serve those in need. The Bible has much to say about how we should feel and respond when we encounter people who are hurting or in difficult circumstances. In this post, we’ll explore key biblical principles about feeling sorry for others and acting with mercy.
As Christians, God calls us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Having empathy and feeling sorry for people who are going through hard times is part of living out our faith. Of course, we have to be careful that our sorrow doesn’t turn to sin – the Bible warns against excessively negative emotions like despair. But feeling genuine compassion is a good thing.
The Bible gives us many examples of godly people who were moved with pity and grief when they saw suffering. Jesus himself had a tender heart towards those who were hurting and often felt deep compassion. As we grow in Christ-likeness, we’ll develop His heart of mercy more and more.
Here are 3 key takeaways about what the Bible teaches regarding feeling sorry for others:
- Sorrow over suffering is a Christ-like emotion we should nurture.
- Our compassion should move us to practical action to relieve suffering.
- We must guard our hearts against falling into despair or sinful emotions.
In the rest of this post, we’ll unpack what Scripture says about these principles. We’ll look at biblical examples of compassion, commands to care for the needy, and warnings about destructive sorrow. The goal is to understand how to rightly feel and express God-honoring empathy when we encounter people going through difficult times.
Christ-Like Sorrow Over Suffering is Good
The Bible makes it clear that feeling grief, pity, and sorrow when we see others suffering is a Christ-like emotional response. Jesus often felt deep compassion as His heart went out to the hurting:
- When Jesus saw blind Bartimaeus begging by the road, “Jesus had compassion and touched his eyes…Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road” (Mark 10:46-52).
- At the death of His friend Lazarus, Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” and He wept with Mary and Martha in their grief (John 11:33-35).
- When Jesus saw the crowds of people coming to hear Him, “He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
Experiencing sorrow and pity for those who are suffering shows that our hearts are aligned with Christ’s. He cares deeply about human pain and hardship, and so should we. Our capacity to empathize comes from being made in the image of a compassionate God.
The Bible calls us to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Bringing our emotional support and understanding to hurting people is part of our Christian duty. We honor God when we nurture a spirit of compassion within ourselves and feel genuine sorrow over the trials others are enduring.
So don’t feel guilty about feeling sorry for someone going through hard times. Your grief over their pain shows that Christ’s heart is alive in you! Of course, we have to avoid letting our emotions lead us into sin or unhealthy spiritual states – which we’ll discuss more below. But fundamentally, sharing in others’ sorrow is biblical love in action.
Compassion Should Motivate Us to Act
In the Bible, feeling sorry for others isn’t meant to be a passive emotion. Our godly sorrow always leads to mercy and comfort for those who are suffering. Compassion is deeply linked to acts of service and charity:
- The Good Samaritan “[took] pity on” the assaulted man he found bleeding by the road and felt compelled to care for his injuries and pay for his recovery (Luke 10:33-35).
- When early Christians encountered widows struggling in poverty, they were “moved with compassion” and ensured “that there was no lack” by sharing food and resources so their needs were met (James 1:27, Acts 6:1-7).
- Jesus tells the story of a servant whose master forgave his large debt, but then he had an unmerciful heart toward a fellow servant’s smaller debt. The angry master chastises him, “Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant?” (Matthew 18:32-33).
These passages show that true biblical compassion always seeks to relieve the source of the suffering through practical actions. It’s not enough just to feel a twinge of transient sadness about someone else’s pain. Our sorrow should energize us to meet felt needs in tangible ways.
Maybe a friend is going through grief and loss. Bring them meals and spend time comforting them. Perhaps someone in your church lost their job. How can you help them access resources to pay their bills while they get back on their feet? There are always concrete ways we can demonstrate compassion when we encounter those who are hurting or struggling.
James says our faith must be paired with good deeds or it is “dead” (James 2:14-17). Similarly, our feelings of empathy mean little if we don’t accompany them with merciful acts to alleviate suffering as we are able. Compassion is incomplete if it doesn’t overflow into love in action.
So next time you feel sorrow for someone in hard circumstances, consider how you can go beyond emotions to compassionate service. Through small acts of kindness and charity, we can make a real difference for those around us who are hurting.
Guard Against Unhealthy Sorrow
So far we’ve seen that godly compassion and feeling sorry for those who suffer is a biblical emotional response. However, our fallen human nature means we need to be careful about keeping our empathetic feelings in check. The Bible warns that unconstrained sorrow can sometimes spiral in unhealthy directions:
- We should “sorrow not as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) – our grief always has redemptive hope in Christ.
- Overwhelming emotions of anguish or despair can lead us away from faith to distrust God (Psalm 42:5,11).
- Empathy for others shouldn’t draw us into codependency and sin (Hebrews 13:9, Galatians 6:2).
- Chronic, inconsolable mourning shows a lack of trust in God’s sovereignty and future restoration (Revelation 21:4).
Being aware of these dangers helps us rightly process feelings of compassion for those who are suffering. We can retain empathy while avoiding extremes like hopelessness, bitterness, obsession, or disabling depression in response to others’ pain.
The key is inviting the Holy Spirit to guide our emotional responses. We can ask for discernment about when our desire to alleviate suffering leads in unhelpful directions. God will help us channel our feelings of sorrow into prayer, hope, wisdom, and caring action as we seek Him.
Additionally, spending time in praise, thanksgiving, and reflecting on the goodness of God provides balance when we walk through hard seasons of feeling sorrow for the hurting world around us. We must keep renewing our perspective in Scripture and Christ’s redemptive promises.
Yes, the Bible calls us to weep with those who weep and have a tender heart of compassion. But God provides the hope and spiritual resources to keep our difficult emotions in check and in proper perspective. By relying on Him, our empathy and pity can be a powerful force for caring for others in Jesus’ name.
What an amazing gift from God that He gave us the capacity for emotional empathy and compassion! As part of bearing His image, we can reflect Christ’s heart by feeling sorrow when we encounter suffering. Our shared grief builds bridges of understanding toward those in need.
Of course, we have to avoid unhealthy extremes and make sure our feelings lead to merciful, hope-filled action. But fundamentally, nurturing compassion is vital for obeying Jesus’ command to love one another. So next time your heart is moved with sadness by someone’s pain, see it as an opportunity to share God’s love in a beautiful, biblical way. No matter what hardship people face, we can extend them Christ’s mercy and hope.
By living with empathy energized by faith, we point hurting souls to the God “of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation” (2 Corinthians 1:3). We become part of His work of binding up broken hearts and proclaiming a future where “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying” (Revelation 21:4). What a joyful calling – to reflect God’s compassion to a hurting world!