to feel pity, compassion, or mercy
A Clever Verse for Context
So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him (Luke 15:20)
Having compassion (splangchnizō) is not just a matter of thoughts, prayers, and sympathy. It is a whole body experience of care for other creatures, beginning in the gut. Just as the father feels compassion for his wayward son in the Prodigal Parable, Jesus experiences the same sensation when he sees the crowds of people seeking help (Matthew 9:36). God feels us: our pain, our sorrow, our guilt, and our anger. God’s heart aches for us, God’s stomach does flip-flops over us. Realize that there is something deeply holy about the feelings of compassion and empathy. That bone deep, stomach churning pain we feel in the face of the hunger, violence, and displacement in our world is God’s Word of Grace, Christ Jesus, taking flesh within us.
σπλαγχνίζω (splangchnizō) is related to the word σπλάγχνον (splangchnon), which means “inner organs.” Metaphorically, this comes to refer to the “heart” and from there the origin of emotions like pity, compassion, or mercy. The pastoral poet Theocritus (2nd cent. BCE) describes love as “having desire in the innards” (splangchnon, see Theocritus, Idyll 7, line 99).
Clever Questions for Further Reflection
When have you felt compassion for someone else? What physical sensations came with the feeling?
Who does your heart currently ache for?
A Clever Prayer to Close
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children,
so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made;
he remembers that we are dust.