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Compassion: Missing Ingredient in American Christianity

By Editorial Staff
Published May 1, 1989

By Colonel Donor

When I was a boy of fourteen I read a tract from an American missionary that described the brutal torture inflicted upon children by the Viet Cong in their strategy to intimidate people into submission through terror – the same sort of cold, calculated, total terror that the crazed colonel, portrayed by Marlon Brando, talked about in the Vietnam film classic Apocalypse Now.

When I read this small tract, I did not immediately dismiss it as something unpleasant or irrelevant to my life. I thought about it. I pictured the young children. I cried. I was filled with hurt and anger at the unspeakable evil of any power that tries to subjugate people through a philosophy that legitimizes terror as an appropriate weapon. The primary operating principle of Communist expansionism is its founder’s, V.I. Lenin’s, maxim that “the end justifies the means.”

As a teenager, the more I learned about such atrocities, of man’s inhumanity to man, the deeper my resolve became to do something about it. Why? Because I felt the pain of the innocent victims, I could see the anguish on their faces, I could hear their pitiful cries for help and their moaning over loved ones.

When South Vietnam and Cambodia fell to the Communists in the mid-seventies, I was about twenty-five years of age and was involved in sending aid to refugees from war zones in Vietnam. When I heart the news, I was stunned. I had not expected a Republican president (Gerald Ford) to allow the Democratic Congress to cut off military aid to our Allies when they were surrounded by a savagely brutal and bloodthirsty army.

I went into my office, locked the door, and turned off the lights. I grieved the entire afternoon. Not because I supported the way America fought the war (which I did not), not because we had lost an ally or because the United States had suffered a humiliating defeat. I wept for the victims of the unspeakable atrocities I knew was to come.

And despite hysterical protests to the contrary by the anti-war movement and the liberals within the media and Congress, news reports over the next few days and years bore out the worst of my fears. When Saigon fell, hundreds of young women killed themselves rather than suffer violent rape and death at the hands of their “liberators.” Brave soldiers fought to the last man to protect their families. Public officials blew their brains out while giving their flag a last salute. The lucky survivors were consigned to “re-education” prison and torture camps.

Of course, what happened in neighboring Cambodia made Saigon look like a fun day at Disneyland. Pol Pot, the Marxist “liberator” of Cambodia, massacred one-third of his entire nation’s population after he seized power. This is reflected in the popular true-life film The Killing Fields. Several authors have confirmed that in their zeal to rid Cambodia of “pre-revolutionary holdover attitudes,” Pol Pot’s regime murdered anyone who had a college degree, worked for the previous government or even wore glasses (a sign of education in the old way).

Their first act of liberation was to execute the entire Parliament and then force march the entire population of the capitol city of Phenom Phen, including every patient in every hospital, into “relocation areas” several hundred miles away. Of course, most died en route, or perished when they got to their new destinations, which were nothing but wild jungles.

A decade later, in 1985, a group of one hundred Christian leaders gathered in Washington, D.C., to view a twenty-minute video showing several black Africans being “necklaced.” This is a practice popular with the Marxist militants of the African National Congress (ANC), devoted to destroying the white government of South Africa through terrorizing any black leaders or black citizens who disagree with their methods or objectives. Victims have a rubber car tire placed around their neck that is then filled with gasoline and set on fire. People chant and cheer as the offending party burns to death.

I did not watch this video as a documentary about terrible or unbelievable things happening to people I did not know, in a country I’d never been to, and therefore didn’t care about. I rose to my feet to demand that we as a group speak out against these atrocities. For the first time in my life I was unable to complete a speech (even a short one). My voice broke, and I could not go on. The pain I felt for those I had just seen martyred was too great to bear.

On perhaps a less dramatic but just as moving note, an experience occurred recently as my wife, Miriam, and I were driving through the countryside. On the side of the road was a large cemetery with a small hill in the middle. On the hill, next to a tombstone, sat a grandmotherly lady on the grass, all alone. How my heart went out to her. As I imagined her spending her days in loneliness, her sorrow and grieving for the lost “partner for life,” tears coursed down my face. Today that particular vision still has the power to move me to tears.

I’m not suggesting that we be vulnerable to, or dwell on, every tragedy we see or hear about. In fact, the more sensitive you are, the more you have to be careful not to be overwhelmed, a problem I have been trying to balance for twenty-five years. I am saying that if we are to exercise compassion, we must begin with increasing our awareness and sensitivity to those in need, down the block, across town, in another state, or around the world.

Increasing Our Compassion

Our natural instincts are to avoid being compassionate. Most of us have enough problems of our own and don’t wish to experience, even for a few seconds, the suffering of others.

While the Bible gives us clear instructions to take care of our businesses and families, we are not told to do so by ignoring everything and everyone else. A fact unfortunately misunderstood by most Christians is our livelihoods are, in fact, part of God’s calling for us: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31). At the very least our jobs or businesses should be viewed as something that sustains us so we can have the time and financial resources to help others. If God in His sovereignty prospers us financially, it is so we can fund the mercy works He calls His people to.

It is our total commitment to a “me” orientation, to selfish desire, to enjoy to the fullest whatever leisure time and activities our level of affluence, which we slave to maintain or increase, will allow, that hinders us from obedience to Christ in exercising compassion.

So, now we must ask ourselves, how can we increase our compassion?

First, we need to pray that God will give us His compassionate heart, that we might see the world and other people with the same compassion God does. This is a prayer I’ve often prayed, and God has always been faithful to answer it. Of course, this is the sort of prayer that we know will be answered because we are obviously praying that the will of God be done in our lives.

Second, we must study the Bible. We call ourselves Christians because we are supposed to follow Christ, not just believe He exists. If we truly “believe in Him,” then certainly we will follow His instructions to serve, to help. We will want to follow His example of allowing human needs to move Him to compassionate acts.

We must use our Bible concordances and search the Bible to see how God feels about justice and compassion for the poor, the oppressed, the orphans, and all those in need.

We must begin to allow God to renew our minds by cultivating a Christian worldview. We must not look at the world as Christians wearing secular glasses and therefore seeing the world only the way non-Christians do. We must learn to see the world the way God does, for He expects this of us. When we view the world through God’s standards of justice, righteousness, and compassion, we will be moved to action – to serve others.

Learning to Feel

Naturally, compassion does not exist in a void. The obvious needs of others act to bring out our compassion. So, we must begin to learn about the many needs around us. We need to allow God to unsettle us with a particular image that will release strong, motivating emotions within us. Only when we can feel with our emotions the pain of others will we be motivated to action, to sacrificing some of our precious energy, our valuable time, our scarce finances. “We have the mind of Christ and hold His feelings and purposes” (I Corinthians 2:16, TLB).

God does not condone or ignore oppression, exploitation, violence, dishonesty, or immorality. Evil angers God (see Jeremiah 44:1-14).

Proverbs 8:13 instructs us that “to fear the Lord” (i.e., reverence for God and obedience to His commands and Lordship over our lives, our time, energy, and resources) “is to hate evil.”

Throughout the Old Testament, God literally wiped out nations because of their evil practices. His wrath and anger were stirred by things like child sacrifice, sexual abuses, and assorted other injustices.

God doesn’t like these things any better today than He did then. The difference is that today, since we have received God’s overwhelming power within us (see Ephesians 1:8-14, John 15:5-17, Philippians 2:13, 4:13), God expects us to feel His hurt, His anger, and to allow Him to use us to rectify the abuses and evils He brings to our attention.

When the New Testament describes multiple instances of Jesus’ being “deeply moved” to compassion by the condition of those He looked upon, the Greek root word indicates that Jesus was moved by a compelling force from the deepest part of His body, from His “guts.”

Testing Your Compassion

Developing compassion is like anything else. It takes a little practice. Perhaps it will be much easier for you than you think. Give yourself this “compassion test.” Please read each example very slowly and think about it until a picture forms in your mind. Then ask yourself, “Would I feel moved to act if?”:

1. Someone was killing innocent babies in my neighborhood.
2. My elderly neighbor was brokenhearted from loneliness.
3. I met an abandoned child, starved for love and positive affirmation.
4. I heard of a family out of work, unable to meet their food bills, being evicted.
5. An older or handicapped person explained to me that he had no place to live and would be forced to live and die on my corner sidewalk.
6. I heard of some orphans in my city who were growing sickly due to lack of nutrition.
7. I suspected local merchants were selling pornography that was bought by:
a. thirteen-year-olds forming their view of sexuality
b. married men “tired of just one sex partner”
c. potential rapists or child molesters
8. I knew local politicians were passing laws to make it easier to get away with rape and other violent acts.
9. My local Christian school was about to be closed by the government because sponsoring churches refused to obey bureaucratic orders.
10. My local Congressman consistently voted to spend more than the government took in; refused to help those resisting wars of aggression; refused to consider the best interests of his country and my family.

The list could go on and on. You could add many more examples of those in need of mercy, love, care, compassion:

1. Victims of our sexual ethics
a. AIDS victims
b. Rape victims
c. Divorce victims
d. Sexually damaged or abused children

2. Victims of racism and “welfarism”

3. Victims of our materialistic, selfish, narcissistic society
a. The unlovely
b. The failed
c. The poor, homeless
d. The handicapped
e. Unwanted children
f. The forgotten elderly

Did any of these visions move your emotions? If you felt motivated to intervene on any one of these situations, you are on your way to exercising compassion.

The absolutely crucial thing we must understand is that these things are happening in our community – our town, city, or state. We must understand that caring for our neighbor is not limited to the person next door. Our neighbors are whoever we see, wherever we see them as Jesus clearly taught in His parable on the Good Samaritan.

New Vision

Jesus Christ, as our example, told us to let our light – our expressing God’s compassion, justice, and righteousness as through our actions – be an example to all mankind. He uses the illustration of a city of believers that would radiate God’s light to all mankind. Such an example would inevitably attract others to God’s justice and righteousness as a beacon of hope shining through the bleak darkness of man’s exploitation of man.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Imagine how our neighborhoods and even our nation would change if forty million Christians actually began to practice loving and caring for the needy. What an example it would be if we just practiced the Golden Rule of “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Would the general public not follow our example as they saw the obvious benefit to society and to their own family? Would they not follow our lead to re-establish a just nation? Would they not select some of us to lead? Of course they would. It is precisely the way the early Christians in America molded our culture and built a government and civilization based on the motto, “In God We Trust.”

That is why immediately before His parable on the city on a hill, Christ commanded us to be the salt or preservative that keeps our society together. But as Christ warned us in Matthew 5:13, when we as salt refuse to exercise our mandate to actively preserve God’s vision for society, then we will be trampled upon by men.

If we are willing to commit ourselves to action as the salt of our society by rebuilding the standards of justice and righteousness necessary for its preservation, our vision will once again appear as a city of light set upon a hill reaching out to all men and women searching for answers for fear, alienation, and confusion.
Our nation is perishing for lack of a vision to hold us together, to inspire us, to guide us, to give us something worthwhile to reach for – the shining city on a hill.

If our nation is to avert its present course of self-destruction, of tearing itself apart, we must be united in our vision. As a first step, we need a symbol. The Greek root word for symbol means to unite together. Symbols draw us together and give us something to bind our otherwise divergent interests. Incidentally, semantically, the opposite to symbolic is the word diabolic. The Greek root word means “to tear apart,” to disintegrate -exactly what America is now doing to itself. The name Satan is derived from this same Greek word diabolos.1

If our vision is a nation based on God’s compassion, justice and righteousness, we need a symbol. A symbol that will represent what we should all be to each other. A symbol that clearly sets an example of how we must proceed if we are to implement our vision.

What better symbol than the Good Samaritan?

America’s new vision must come from those inspired by God’s eternal standards of justice and righteousness. We have seen that for justice and righteousness to be effectuated, they must spring from a Christ-like compassion. We have learned that if we will be obedient to follow Christ’s instructions to act as salt and light in our neighborhood, this vision will begin to become reality.

Truly God has the answers for our generation’s fears and alienation, and these answers should comprise our vision for a better world for all people. The question remains though, just how convinced are we about what, or how much, God really expects of us in regard to this vision?

1 Rolo May, Love and Will (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1969), p. 137.

This article was taken from the book The Samaritan Strategy by Colonel Doner, © 1988, Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers. Used by permission of the author.

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