Exodus 34:6: And Yahweh passed over before him, and he proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh, God, who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding with loyal love and faithfulness.”
Psalm 51:1-2: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
Matthew 9:35-36: And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Ephesians 4:32: Be kind toward one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as also God in Christ has forgiven you.
If you were to describe God’s character, what would be the first word you would choose? Our responses would most likely vary. It is striking then that the first word God uses to describe himself is that he is compassionate. As the video showed, he is moved in his core toward people who are broken, hurting, and yes, sinful. He is moved deeply, just like a mother loves her infant child. The story of the Bible shows us that Israel and all humanity are deeply broken in our sin, yet God responds over and over with compassion. This word is also translated sometimes as merciful. That is why in Exodus 34:7 he forgives people of their iniquity, transgression, and sin. Yes, he is also just and will not pardon the guilty. But when sinful people humble themselves before him, they do not find a God who holds grudges. He is moved with compassion and mercy in response to confession.
King David committed adultery and murder – he was worthy of death. But he humbled himself and called on God to forgive, not according to David’s own deeds but according to God’s compassionate character. Even the vilest acts are met with the tender compassion of the Lord when his people cry out in humility to him.
The ultimate expression of God’s compassion is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. His compassion is on display throughout his earthly ministry. In Matthew 9, he sees Israelites as helpless sheep that desperately need a caring shepherd. The shortest verse in the Bible (John 11:35) is one of the most powerful displays of his compassion – “Jesus wept” at the death of Lazarus and the grieving of his friends, even though he would shortly raise him from the dead. Finally, to provide God’s forgiveness for all the sin with which we have filled our lives and history, Jesus took our sin and death on himself as he died on a cross. We have received the compassionate and merciful forgiveness of God through the sacrifice of Christ.
One of the focal points of the season of Lent is confession of sin and repentance. We can and should come before our Maker with cries of “Lord, have mercy, have compassion on me, a sinner!” We can do so because he is compassionate, because Jesus Christ demonstrated once for all his compassion for us.
But take it a step further. As a follower of Jesus, I am compelled to consider his character and be transformed by it. I must become like Christ. Am I compassionate toward others as he is? Is my core response when I have been wronged to be moved to compassion? Or do I hold grudges and contempt instead? Do I meet the hurting and broken with the compassion of Christ? The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians that kindness, forgiveness, and compassion should mark the Christian. As God has had compassion on us in Christ, we must show one another and our world compassion. May we look to the example of Jesus in his death and be moved as he was to a world in the dark, lost in sin, desperately needing the compassion of our God.
Additional Resources for Compassion:
Music Resources for the season of Lent: