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February 14, 2022
September 26, 2023

Painful Compassion

"And Jesus said, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'” (Luke 23:34 ESV)

Of all the things Jesus could have said at His crucifixion, this is perhaps the most surprising and most comforting. One can only imagine the depth of pain He experienced in this moment, and yet the pain didn’t control Him. Pierced, bleeding, and abandoned, Jesus looked upon His abusers with painful compassion. He knew if their eyes could see what was actually taking place, their hearts would break and they would stop. But they couldn’t see.

Pain generally tells us one thing—what's happening is bad, so we need to end it quickly. This usually produces a fight or flight response to the source of our pain. When yelled at, we tend to either yell back or recede into silence. When we stub our toe on a wayward door, we tend to either recoil in pain or attack the door with a clenched fist. Jesus, however, models a different way with pain. He didn’t run from it or fight against it. Instead, at the cross, He received it and saw it for what it was—further evidence His children’s need for help.

Hurt people hurt people. It's a sad truth that has marked the human experience from the moment Adam and Eve rejected God’s counsel. When we're hurt by others, we have the choice to focus on our pain or theirs. Jesus chose to focus on the wounds of those hurting Him. He could see the depths of their pain and recognized they couldn’t see beyond it. There had been too much wounding already—healing forgiveness was needed. Instead of striking back, Jesus received the stipes of the wounded and poured out mercy and grace. In this, we see our Savior doing what feels impossible to us. In the middle of suffering at the hands of those who could be rightly defined as His enemies, He choose to receive their unjust wounds, love them, and intercede for them. He didn’t treat them according to their behavior, but rather responded according to their created design. They were blind to the reality that they were much more than their pain.

As counselors, we'll often care for clients who are controlled by their past wounds. We can see it clearly, but often they cannot. May we, like Jesus, endure with these clients knowing that if they could see God’s greater reality they would respond differently. May we be patient when their wounds afflict us, knowing that in these times our gentle and compassionate responses are an echo of the eternal loving compassion Christ has given for their pain. They are more than these painful moments and one day we all will this is true.

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Andrew Dealy
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Austin Stone Counseling
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