The Lost Art Of Sympathy

If you’ve been following my blog for even a small amount of time, you likely know a couple things about me.

I love Jesus and I love musicals.

I especially love how Biblical messages often show up in the storylines of musicals.

Yesterday I was driving from Wichita Falls back to my home in Vernon. I was listening to the Phantom of the Opera, which is a classic.

The final number, Down Once More, gets me emotional every time. This song humanizes the phantom. This song gives you sympathy for the phantom. The viewer doesn’t condone the murderous actions of the phantom, but you are able to briefly look past them and see the pain, the hurt, the brokenness that the phantom carried with him throughout his life.

As I got a lump in my throat from the final lyrics, I realized something.

We’ve lost that.

We’ve lost the art of sympathy.

Especially as Christians.

Anger and outrage, aggression and rudeness, boisterousness and vitriol. These are the fruits of the modern Christian.

We’ve stopped being willing to listen.

We only yell.

I urge you to ask the Lord to give you sympathy. Ask the Lord to give you the desire to understand where people are coming from, even if you disagree with them 100%.

Jesus was meek and gentle. He was not the macho American man. He absolutely spoke up and spoke out. But He did so to critique and convict the people of God and to draw them to Him. We’ve gotten a skewed view of his anger in the Gospels when we make them about condemnation as opposed to conviction. Those who didn’t turn, absolutely they stood condemned. But the call was to lead them to change.

Praise God for those who are calling the American church to change, to act, to move.

Let us do so in a way that leads to repentance, not hardened hearts.

Let us do so in a way that leads to conviction, not condemnation.

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. Therefore, ridding yourselves of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, humbly receive the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. – James 1:19-21

This passage is a hard one for me to live out. I want to give my opinions. I want to criticize. I want to condemn. But human anger in me doesn’t produce anything good.

There is a place for righteous anger. That is super clear in Scripture. Where injustice is taking place, there is a Spirit-driven anger. But only that anger can produce so much change in the hearts of men. We must strive to differentiate between the two.

Evil is prevalent. We’ve all seen it firsthand as of late. Moral filth is prevalent. We must actively rid ourselves of sin through the power of the Spirit, and then get into Scripture. Scripture must inform us. Scripture must lead us. Scripture must guide us.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. . . Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Give careful thought to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12:9-12, 16-18

This passage has informed so much of my behavior these last few months.

Politics.

Covid-19.

The church and social justice.

If you go back and read my posts on social media, I’ve sought to listen. To learn. I am not wise. I don’t have the answers. I want to be a man who loves well. Who lives in harmony. Who lives at peace.

You can absolutely condemn the horrid sin of racism, mourning with those who mourn, in a way that brings peace and harmony, in a way that doesn’t condemn every police officer around the country. You can absolutely look at violent riots and condemn sin in a way that brings peace and harmony, in a way that doesn’t condemn every protestor around the country.

We’ve lost the ability to sympathize. To try and understand.

I try and live in such a way where I condemn sin but welcome and love all, praying that God leads every one of us to repentance.

I have had to confess publicly from the pulpit at my church that there is racism in my heart. That’s me condemning sin. I am grateful for a community protest that I attended in Vernon that did just what that passage in Romans described. Racism was condemned but police across the board were not. Violent rioters were condemned but protestors across the board were not.

Brother and sister in Christ, listen.

Brother and sister in Christ, sympathize.

Enough with the arguments.

Statistics.

Opinions.

Listen.

Learn.

Disagree in love.

Condemn sin.

But love the sinner.

I have learned over the past few months that personal conversations are hugely important. I have sat across from people who disagreed with me on politics, and we left loving one another. I have sat across from people who have said all manner of things regarding Covid-19, and we left loving one another. I have sat across from people who disagree with me regarding Jesus and social justice (I have another post coming soonish), and we have left loving one another.

Before you condemn, reach out.

Before you condemn, have a conversation.

Before you condemn, pray.

Before you condemn, sympathize.

Let us as the people of God live in such a way that we condemn sin but welcome and love all. Those aren’t mutually exclusive.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach

 

 

 

*the above photo is not my property*

Evan Hansen, Calvinism, and Holiness

I love musicals.

I love how musical themes that are present in songs at the beginning of musicals come to a head again and again throughout the entirety of the show (the Bible is much the same way. If you study Biblical theology you will see themes that repeat over and over in the one big story of Scripture). I love how powerfully you can tell a story via music.

I get hooked on a musical and listen to it lots.

On my way to an orthodontist appointment this week in Dallas, I discovered Dear Evan Hansen (now, there is a bit of language. So hearers discretion advised).

Dear Evan Hansen is a powerfully provocative dark comedy about teenage loneliness, suicide, broken families and the desire to be loved.

Evan Hansen is a loner, struggling to find community, wrestling with the lack of a father in his life. Another student named Connor takes his own life, and Evan finds himself propagating a big lie, that he and Connor were best friends. He back-logs e-mails, continuing to lie to Connor’s family for quite some time before the truth comes to the forefront. (That is a really poor synopsis, but oh well).

I found myself driving down 287 with tears filling my eyes. As a Family Discipleship pastor I see the pain and brokenness that teens are facing. I know how real this story the musical is telling is. There is great loneliness. There is pain. I see it. I counsel it. I cry over it. I pray over it.

All of these emotions came pouring out as soon as I got home. Jamie was my unsuspecting target. I half-yelled via excitement through the entire plot of the musical. I found it so powerful and so stirring that I didn’t even stop to take a breath when I shared it all with Jamie.

We tend to rant about things that excite us, that stir up emotions in is.

The apostle Paul was much the same way. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, he is so stirred by the beauty of the gospel story that he doesn’t even stop to properly punctuate his sentence.

Ephesians 1:3-14 is in fact just one long sentence in the original Greek.

Paul is so pumped and stoked about the beauty of our salvation in Christ that he just lets it all out in what comma-infused rant that any modern English teacher would be frustrated by.

I’ve been giving this passage some thought.

Recently I’ve been absolutely blown away by the reality that our sanctification, not just our salvation, is brought about by God’s work in us (See Philippians 3:9 for instance. Or if you’re interested in books on the topic read Possessed by God or Rethinking Holiness or How Does Sanctification Work? – if you’re a Vernonite come to my office at the church). God does the work in us. We are passive participants in the work of the Spirit. We rely on Him wholly and completely for our growth in godliness.

The start of this long run-on by Paul is yet another example of this fact.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. - Ephesians 1:3-4a

Now, most people can’t read this passage (or the rest of it for that matter) without their first thought being about the ol’ classic Calvinism or Arminianism debate. Let me give you my two cents on that matter. This might be the first time I’ve blogged about this.

  1. God is higher than us. Romans 11 and 1 Corinthians 2 make this abundantly apparent. As finite humans, we can never fully comprehend God. Does that mean we don’t even try to comprehend Him or His Word? Absolutely not. I mean, you’re reading a blog from a guy who reads commentaries for fun at night. But we will never fully understand the acts of God. So I think it’s foolish of me to think that I can fully understand how God chooses to save. And I think we’re missing the point when we bicker over this matter. Do I believe that God is sovereign over every thing in the universe? Yes. Do I believe that God has given man free will? Also yes. Does that make sense? No. But maybe that’s where faith comes in. This is likely an unsatisfactory answer for many people, but it’s all I know for sure. The Christian faith is absolutely full of paradoxes that make no logical sense. I read a ton of reformed theology that touts the sovereignty of God but what I consider myself doesn’t fit the two-sided debate:
  2. Three point Roachist. Back when I was in college, the debate around Calvinism was raging. I was told by some that I wasn’t reading the Bible well if I wasn’t a Calvinist. I was told by others that Calvinists were arrogant jerks. I got so tired of all the needless debate that I said “I’m a three point Roachist. I love Jesus. I love pizza. I want to get married one day. That’s all I know for sure.” That always brought laughter and the end of arguments, even if people were annoyed with my answer. After years of reading and studying I still don’t have firm beliefs in every single secondary or tertiary matter.
  3. Missing the Heart for the Head. Lastly, I believe that maybe, just maybe, when we take this passage and rip it into theological debates about salvation, we’re drastically missing the point. Paul is pumped. Excited. Overflowing with joy and praise. Why? Because of all the spiritual blessings that we’ve received in Christ. If our response to this passage (or any passage in Scripture for that matter) is merely to get ready to defend our beliefs, we’ve missed the point. This passage should cause us to worship.

Praise God for choosing me. How? I don’t know. I just know it’s been done.

Praise God for making me blameless and holy. When He chose me, He made me blameless and holy. Did you see that? This passage doesn’t say that God chose me in Christ so that I could work hard to be holy and blameless. It says that God choosing me makes me holy and blameless.

How does that work?

Faith. Paradox. Belief.

I have sinned a lot today in thought, word, and deed. Yet God the Father sees me as holy and blameless because of my Lord Jesus Christ.

That’s worth worshipping about.

That’s worth sharing about.

Praise God.

In His Name,

Nathan Roach