Compassion Needs A God
Cliches and political-slogans promoting “Social Justice” have replaced any coherent philosophy or transcended moral imperative and this does not bode well for to future of compassion. As more and more Americans embrace a Post-Christian worldview, it is interesting to observe that, for now, they still cling to some ideal of compassion… yet, what happens when economies collapse and kindness is no longer convenient?
The uniqueness of the Christian Faith, i.e. the belief in Jesus as a risen savior, is the foundation that has both propelled the Church to unmatched growth and compelled the West to unprecedented compassion around the Globe. Yet the necessity of God as the ethical foundation for compassion has been forgotten. There are movements of atheists, agnostics, and even christians to “do good” yet they no longer accept the direct link between their desire for compassion and need to worship God.
Be warned, as Western society rushes forward to embrace a secularized compassion… change will come. Eventually, the political “gods” will shift their attention to more pressing matters and compassion itself will follow “God” into oblivion.
Consider then this story from the early church in Jerusalem as it exemplifies the eternal connection between the worship of God and the mandate to care for those in need.
Acts 6:1–7 (ESV
1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
This story is not an isolated incident. It is but one example of how the compassion of the Christians changed the world forever. The triumph of the early Christian faith over the pagan culture was due in large part to how they treated love of one-another as an expression of worship.
Rodney Stark from the University of Washington gives an excellent summary of the Christian’s unique place in history when it comes to self-sacrifice and doing good. In his article, “Epidemics, Networkds, And The Rise of Christianity.”
Here issues of doctrine must be addressed. For something distinctive did come into the world with the development of Christianity—the linking of a highly social ethical code with religion. There was nothing new in the idea that the supernatural makes behavioral demands upon humans—the gods have always wanted sacrifices and worship. Nor was there anything new in the notion that the supernatural will respond to offerings—that the gods can be induced to exchange services for sacrifices. What was new was the notion that more than self-interested exchange relations were possible between humans and the supernatural. The Christian teaching that God loves those who love Him was alien to pagan beliefs. MacMullen (1981:53) has noted that from the pagan perspective:
“What mattered was … the service that the deity could provide, since a god (as Aristotle had long taught) could feel no love in response to that offered.”
Equally alien to paganism was the notion that because God loves humanity, Christians cannot please God unless they love one another. Indeed, as God demonstrates his love through sacrifice, humans must demonstrate their love through sacrifice on behalf of one another. Moreover, such responsibilities were to be extended beyond the bonds of family and tribe, indeed to “all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). These were revolutionary ideas.
Pagan and Christian writers are unanimous that not only did Christian scripture stress love and charity as the central duties of faith, but that these were sustained in everyday behavior. Lucian wrote of the Christians: “Their original lawgiver taught them that they were all brethren, one of the other.”
ed L. Michael White, ed L. Michael White and Society of Biblical Literature, vol. 56, Semeia. Semeia 56, Semeia (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 1991), 168-69.
Compassion is not an end in itself. Without a transcendent, triune, and loving God, compassion will eventually run its course and a new social-ethic will prevail. If you want to do good deeds, then remember; compassion needs a God!