Umm . . . yes, he really did call it a sin, an “enticing sin,” in fact. That is, Joe Rigney, the Desiring God author, truly did say that empathy is bad and even a trick of the devil. And the majority of the commenters on the Facebook post of the article and the hundreds who shared it believed the same way, many of them feeling convicted of the sin of empathy.

It’s a Screwtape-styled article, so you’re supposed to read it inside out and opposite, sometimes but not all the time, which can make it challenging to figure out, but it’s here, so I welcome you to see for yourself.

“Compassion,” “sympathy,” “empathy”?

Here’s what the Desiring God author said, translated from “Screwtape-ese” to normal talk:

[God’s] virtue of compassion attempts to suffer with the hurting while maintaining an allegiance to [God].

I think, actually, he’s talking there about “sympathy.”

Sympathy is being moved by someone else’s sorrow and pain in a way that shows at least some measure of understanding. That is, even though I’ve never lost a child, I can give my bereaved friend a sympathy card, and I can sit with her in her grief. Even though I don’t personally know this grief, I can in some dim way imagine how terrible it must be to lose a child.

It’s a painful thing to sit with another in her grief. But that’s what sympathy is about. It is “suffering with.”

But compassion is sympathy plus. That is, compassion is being moved by someone else’s sorrow and pain in a way that motivates action to help the sufferer. Sympathy plus inner motivation to help will result in compassion.

“And Jesus went forth and saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14)

Compassion will sometimes be involved in helping to relieve the suffering (whether it be physical or emotional suffering), but sometimes compassion understands that the suffering can’t really be relieved, but must be walked through. Compassion will be willing to walk through it with the person. 

As an important side note: An “inner motivation to help” that is devoid of the understanding that we call sympathy will result in the desire to “fix it.” That is, in the name of “helping” or “doing good,” the sufferer can be given platitudes meant to shut down grieving, ignoring the trauma.

This kind of “fix it” talk is devoid of either sympathy or compassion.

And we haven’t even gotten to empathy.

Or those horrible things he says about the Sufferers.








Note: A follow-up article to this one is posted here.




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