Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Monday, 06 February 2012


By Jim Jordal

 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. He who doesn't love his brother remains in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him. By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and closes his heart of compassion against him, how does the love of God remain in him? My little children, let's not love in word only, neither with the tongue only, but in deed and truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and persuade our hearts before him…

I John 3:14-19, WEB

Compassion is among the highest, if not the highest, of Christian virtues. Jesus had it; Christians supposedly have it. So why the vast disconnect between the compassion Christians show for others of similar belief and behavior in their church or family group, but so little for those "different" people often living in their neighborhood or city block or even being members of their church?

If you think this never happens within the church, just listen when people gain enough courage to speak honestly about their attitudes toward others, and especially toward fellow Christians who may have departed somewhat from their rigidly held doctrines or strict behavioral codes. These "deviant" people may do nothing more serious than to question some of the supposedly Christian vales and attitudes they find within their church.

I’m speaking of the all-to-common Christian tendency to demonize anyone who is not just like us—racially, economically, politically, socially and religiously. This tendency to demonize anyone who is not like us has its roots in fear and ignorance. The fear comes from the belief that people unlike us might in some way take something from us--like our jobs or our homes or our neighborhoods. Worse yet, they may threaten some of our most deeply held values relative to the worth of people and their places in society. The ignorance arises from not knowing what God clearly says on these issues.

How can Christians listen Sunday after Sunday for years to sermons about the parables and teachings of Jesus Christ, and still be unaware of what he said concerning the role of the existing economic, political, and religious systems in maintaining the power of the rich to exploit the poor? How can people read the prophet Isaiah and miss what he says about evil dominators and their just punishment at the hands of God? How can they read the Psalms and fail to see David’s piercing critiques of the enemies of Christ, most of them practicing economic evil? It’s sadly true that the same message flows throughout the Bible but is missed or ignored by large portions of Christendom.

But the demonizing that I hear most frequently is that of blaming the poor for their poverty—not the vicious, cruel corporate domination system that enslaves them. Yes, there are a few verses in Proverbs and in the writings of Paul saying in effect that those who won’t work shouldn’t eat, or that people who won’t make an honest effort will be poor and deserve to be. But what of the thousands of verses saying otherwise? They are studiously ignored because they don’t support what we want to believe---that the poor create the causes of their poverty and therefore deserve whatever life brings them.

How then does compassion on the personal level translate into justice in society? It’s easy. The same principles apply in each case. Our elected representatives translate values and attitudes held by individuals and organizations into law. If we live in a compassionate, truthful society these attributes will become law. If we live in a greedy, self-centered, deceitful and violent society, these values also will become law.

The Bible passage quoted above tells us that our protestations of being followers of Christ are questionable if we have this world’s goods and fail to share our wealth with a brother in need. When this attitude gets translated into law you have what we face today: laws serving mainly to transfer wealth from poor to rich, protecting at all costs the already excessive wealth of a small minority, and preventing any equitable redistribution from happening.

It’s a lack of personal compassion translated into societal injustice.