By Rev. David Wilson Rogers |  August 31, 2013

            The video was simple and easy to understand. A young girl, probably nine or ten years old, was sitting at her classroom desk. Her face reflected beautiful child-like curiosity and excitement, but otherwise no extreme emotion. Until the whole scene changed.
            In seconds, her face went from curiosity to absolute shock. Her jaw dropped wide open with unexplainable surprise and her eyes, fixed in astonishment, reflected the sheer shock of what she was now witnessing. A stark expression of disbelief replaced the previous look of inquiry as she raised her tender young hands to her face and started to cry uncontrollably. Her hands shook violently as her fixed gaze remained focused through the tear-filled eyes.

            The camera followed this tender young girl as she got up from her desk and moved sobbing toward the reason for her emotional outburst. Then, she reached out to welcome the loving embrace of a uniformed soldier. Daddy had returned home from war and wanted to surprise his beloved daughter at school.

There was not a dry eye in the room. Everyone, including those of us watching this silent video on the screen, were moved to tears ourselves. None of us knew anything about this little girl or her daddy. Nobody even knew her name. Yet, in that moment, we shared with her an incredible aspect of her tearful joy that Daddy was home safe.

It is called empathy and it is part of our best human qualities. Our brains are hard-wired to emotionally connect with other people, particularly in times of intense emotional expression. It is why we cry at weddings and get caught up in other people’s joy. It is why, when watching funny home videos and the silly things people do that just happen to get caught on camera, we are prone to flinch at the unintended hit or fall. It is why other people’s stories compel us and why other people’s pain enrages us.

God made that part of our brain for a reason. We are created to be in community with each other and gave us the capacity to relate to one another on the most deep, visceral, emotional level—even across the gap of time through video or storytelling. It is also how we love!

That shared humanity we have is one that, by virtue of being created in God’s image, is necessarily tied to God’s very presence in each and every one of us. Is it any wonder that Jesus tells us that, as we treat one another, so we treat God? Therefore, a large reality of how we glorify God is reflected in the way we treat others in our world. It is a simple matter of Christian integrity. It is the real-world expression of God’s love!    
In the Bible the prophets Amos and Micah both speak boldly against the believers who gather in formal assemblies to worship God, but fail to connect on a human level to those around them. Jesus’ ministry was lived out in making the genuine, heart-felt human connection to people who had been disenfranchised by, and in some cases, cast out from, the religious community of his day. It is by connecting through empathy that Jesus truly loved!

In today’s world there is plenty of human suffering. When nations, politicians, theologians, and warriors square off and presume to know the solution to all the human suffering in this world, it is easy to get caught up in arguing over who is right who is wrong; who needs to be lifted up and who needs to be cast out. In most cases, everyone’s presumed solution has enough validity to have credibility and enough flaws to suggest they are unacceptable.

We all have good reasons for believing as we do and there is validity to standing firm in our heartfelt convictions. Yet, not while silencing of God’s sacred gift of human empathy. It is, after all, how we love one another as God has always loved us!