Empathy or Integrity
When it comes to politics I am very reserved about involvement and open opinions. The divisiveness that often associates itself with political ideologies has made me very wary of discussions. Yet at the same time, I recognize the important role that politics plays and the impact it can have on our daily living. That’s why I have been so intrigued over the recent developments in politics and watched with fascination as so many Republican candidates took their place on the national stage tonight. As the night ended, I was stunned to learn something new. I was able to catch a glimpse of American culture in the midst of a change, something that was not evident by the candidates on the stage, but by the responses that were given afterwards. What used to be no longer is as it became evident that people of today have a greater desire for empathy than they do integrity.
One Greater Than the Other
The responses generated by the debate seem to support this proposition. When asking the general public who they favored and why, the response was usually something along the lines of whichever candidate seemed to best understand the situation of that particular individual. Yet, there was almost no identification as to whether or not the candidate was open, honest, or genuine. Such a deference to one area in preference of another indicates a grave concern.
We are a people who expects others to not be genuine or truthful with us. Because it is so commonplace, we have simply just began to accept it as the norm. Content with this state, our culture has simply replaced their expectation of integrity with the expectation of empathy instead.
This change in expectations has a major impact on the relationships we have with others. While empathy is important, without integrity the empathy one displays can never be trusted as genuine. Thus we see at least three consequences exemplified in our relationships:
- It impacts the genuineness of a relationship.
- It impacts the expectations of a relationship.
- It impacts the quality of a relationship.
We have diminished each of these three areas in our relationships. Perhaps this is why we are a culture content with the social media style of relationships that we now have. But how does our Biblical worldview impact our assessment of this modern trend? Are empathy and integrity really mutually exclusive?
Empathy and Integrity
Noticing this mindset after the debate caused me to go to Scripture in concern about the sake of believers and unbelievers alike. As our source of truth, the Word of God sheds a lot of light on this topic in ways we may not expect.
Believers are called to fellowship with one another. John writes that if we walk in the Light we have fellowship with one another (1 John 1:7). Fellowship played an important role in the believers’ lives in Acts 2 (cf. Acts 2:42). Fellowship is more than a casual relationship. Fellowship with one another indicates a deep relationship of people brought together by a common bond found uniquely in Jesus Christ alone. It indicates a close-knit and intimate involvement with one another. And absent from it are the three characteristics above when integrity is removed as a necessary part of fellowship.
Two Greater Than One
Looking deeper into Scripture, Paul addresses this in Romans 12. Reading in verses 9 and 15 we find the following words: “Let love be genuine . . . Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” It is here that we see both integrity and empathy and how they work together.
Paul’s writing in verse 15 calls for the empathy just as our culture is desiring. It is a culture that wants people to identify with them in both the good, easy times as well as the bad, difficult times. Being empathetic towards or with others is Scriptural.
While taking that into account, note also verse 9. It is there that Paul calls on believers to love genuinely. In this great list of Christian qualities from verses 9-21, love is the first mentioned. It is foundational to everything else. No desirable character trait will be found in us if it is not predicated first by a love of God and a love of others (Mark 12:30-31). This is why they are listed as the greatest commandments. We cannot contribute to others needs without love of God or love of others (Romans 12:13). We cannot bless those who persecute us without a love of God or others (verse 14). We will not overcome evil with good if we do not do it out of love of God and love of others (verse 21). And the list goes on, even into the other commands of Scripture.
Paul is very specific in his mention of love here. He says it must be genuine. That is to say that our love must be truthful or legitimate, that it must be full of integrity. The very meaning of the Greek word used for genuine (or without hypocrisy as other versions translate it) means an open and genuine heart indicating that the love we have does not hide any ulterior motives.
If genuine love is the foundation to all the others, then that means love is displayed as we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. And it is done so genuinely. When others are hurt by circumstances, we legitimately hurt with them. When they are rejoicing, we rejoice with them with a genuineness of spirit. Both can be hard for us. Sometimes it is difficult to understand others hurts. Other times we find ourselves jealous when others situations are going so well. Regardless, motivated by genuine love of God and others, we have genuine empathy for them.
Why does this matter? We already know that our mindset is counter to the culture in which we live. I would tell you though that this has a major impact on our evangelism. If we understand that the world desires empathy and that true empathy begins with love, then how do we relate to the culture we are to reach? By loving them genuinely. This isn’t such a radical concept. But we now know that if we display that love by rejoicing with them and weeping with them, then when those moments come we are more apt to recognize those moments as opportunities to point to God through Christ. We love God, therefore we glorify God. We love others, therefore we glorify God to others.