You, O Lord are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding
in love and faithfulness.” (Psalm 86:15)
Wikipedia defines the word ‘compassion’ thusly; “Compassion motivates people to go out of their way to help the physical, mental or emotional pains of another and themselves.”
Compassion started at the Garden of Eden when the couple, Adam and Eve, clothed in leaves—to cover their shame---were leaving the Garden from which they had been driven. It was a pathetic sight. Their disobedience had reduced them to a status of mere beings who from henceforth had to fend for themselves. They did not know how and where to start. To help them out, as it were, God provided them with a more permanent clothing. To do so, He had to kill an animal. “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21) Unsolicited gestures of this nature run like a thread throughout Scripture, for Yahweh cannot withhold acting on behalf of His ‘treasured possession’ out of love, mercy and compassion.
Again we see Him intervening on their behalf with compassion as the Israelites laboured under the yoke of slavery in the hands of the Egyptians. Calling Moses, He acquaints him with his assignment. “The Lord said I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their sufferings. So I have come to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey – the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go, I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-11)
As we peruse the Bible, we will observe that God’s rescue missions provoked by sympathy are never-ending. In His anger He will punish them for their disobedience only to have compassion for them afterwards. “But as soon as they were at rest, they again did what was evil in Your sight. Then You abandoned them to the hand of their enemies so that they ruled over them. And when they cried out to you again, You heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time.” (Nehemiah 9:28)
David knew this. After he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband to cover his tracks, he pleaded: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1) David had a knack of wriggling out of trouble each time he appealed to God’s soft spot, His compassion. God’s nature is marked by the display of His incessant mercy. “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19)
“The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; He has compassion to all He has made.” (Psalm 145:8-9)
“The LORD is righteous in all His ways and loving toward all He has made. The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfils the desires of those who fear Him; He hears their cry and saves them.” (Psalm 145:17-19)
The height of God’s compassion is made visible when Jesus fed five thousand men, not counting the women and children. In their hunger for the Word of life and in a bid to have their physical needs met as He healed all who were sick, they had followed Him, and now it was getting to evening. He had compassion on them because they had had nothing to eat. He could not remain indifferent or turn a blind eye. “When He (Jesus) saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) Referring to the same event, Mark put it this way; Jesus said; “I have compassion for this people.” (Mark 8:2) Nothing upsets Jesus like unkindness. Each time He came across a case warranting sympathy, He could not be restrained from giving a helping hand. It was characteristic with Him.
He could have sent this crowd away as one of the apostles suggested, but He didn’t. Instead, the desire for manifesting the glory of God was prevalent. With only five loaves and two fish, He multiplied them and gave to the His disciples to distribute. On another occasion He used seven loaves and a few small fish to perform a similar miracle – feeding four thousand, not counting the women and children. (Matthew 15:29-38)
The self-seeking mode of our era has no place for compassion. Yet the Bible teaches; “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4: 32)
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)