You can easily feel sympathy for me when you care about me and I'm in trouble. You will also share my feelings, especially in times of loss and grief.
But empathy is something deeper than sympathy. It's not only feeling someone else's feelings. Empathy is a sensitivity to another person's life, often on a broad scale, an identification with the life of others and experiencing someone else's life.
The Bible gives us a golden rule for empathy: "Love your neighbor as yourself." When someone asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" he told the well-known story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
Several times Jesus extended that story by saying, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies ..." (Matthew 5:43-44).
More than that, the golden rule says, "Love your neighbor as yourself," even your enemy. Identifying with your neighbor (who is any other human being) is an experience that requires empathy.
What does having empathy for a person or group do to the one who gives it? Well, think of people who have done this, like Martin Luther King Jr. or some of our country's better presidents like Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Empathy caused them to care about others, especially the oppressed, the poor and the sick, the jobless, and the elderly who need help.
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© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers