Compassion, often referred to today as “social justice,” has an ancient derivation: it comes from God.
Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of WORLD Magazine, wrote The Tragedy of American Compassion in 1994. We have been reflecting on Olaskay’s seven principles, first in There is No True Social Justice Without Personal Relationship, then Social Justice Requires Both a Warm Heart and a Clear Head and finally Social Justice Means Freedom to Work. This fourth and final post will examine Olasky’s seventh principle: God.
All compassion springs from the heart of God. As we have written elsewhere (see here and here and here) God’s name, as indicated in Exodus 34:6-9, has two of the classic words for compassion—compassion and love. Cultures and people become like the god they worship. A world without Christ is a world without compassion. God has manifested His compassion in the incarnation. We saw that most clearly when Christ, the suffering servant, came to suffer with us and for us. Now God wants to make His people a compassionate people.
A man named Count Zinzendorf lived in Germany about 250 years ago. He became the founder of the Moravian movement. The vision for that movement began in a museum where Zinzendorf saw the Domenico Feti masterpiece, Ecce Homo. Feti’s painting depicts Christ shortly before He went to the cross. The Lord is wearing a crown of thorns, standing before Pilate with the mob in the background. The inscription at the bottom says, “This have I done for thee; What hast thou done for me?”
Jesus Christ has died for you. He has suffered together with you. Now He asks, “What have you done for Me?”
Generosity of compassion is not measured by amount of dollars but by nobility of character, quality of time, and quality of service. The early church understood that compassion springs from the heart of God. They opened their homes and created hospices for people who were terminally ill. They visited people in prison like the ministry of Prison Fellowship does today. Church people moved into slums to live among the poor.
Something very remarkable happened in the third century when Emperor Julian critiqued the Christian church. They were called Atheists because they refused to bow before the “god” Caesar. He wrote,
Atheism [i.e., Christian faith] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.
The early church understood compassion because they knew the God of compassion. God’s compassion made great demands on himself. It took His Son to the cross. Christ’s death provided for forgiveness, and those who were born again into his family became compassionate like him. Compassion sprang from their lives. They performed compassionate acts and created compassionate institutions, so much so that a godless emperor watching them reflected, “Here is a new kind of person. We have never seen this kind of person before.”
How do we measure compassion? Consider Robert Thompson’s words 1891, “You can judge the scale on which any scheme of help for the needy stands by this single quality, Does it make great demands on men to give of themselves to their brethren?”
May we understand the measure of compassion in our generation. May we be people who understand that compassion has sprung from the heart of God, that His compassion has been faithful throughout generations, that He has manifested it in the incarnation, and now He wants to manifest it through our lives in a broken world.
- Darrow Miller
 E.E. Ryden, The Story of Christian Hymnody, (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1959) p. 139.
 Stephen Neill, A History of Christian Missions, (London: Penguin Books, 1966), p. 42.
 Olasky, p. 225.