|T FLASHED ON THE TV SCREEN FOR ONLY A few seconds, but I never forgot the scene. Half kneeling over his comrade’s limp body, a soldier clutched a machine gun with one hand while covering his face with the other, crying inconsolably. More than 20 years have passed since I saw this news clip, yet the sobs still echo in my ears, and the grief still stirs my heart. Soldiers, I had thought at the age of 14, were all steel and no tears.
I still remember running to tell my dad (who was reading his Bible) how I never expected such anguished empathy from a soldier. He paused for a moment. Then, to my surprise, he blurted out, “Oh, if only Christians could grieve like that when fellow Christians fall.”
I did not understand my father’s effusion, until recently. His statement echoed through my mind as I read Jeremiah 8:21–9:1: “Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn, and horror grips me. . . . Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people.” In Jeremiah’s intense grief over his people’s suffering—suffering caused, I must point out, by their apostasy—I suddenly understood my father’s outpouring of emotion that day long ago.
Needed: Christian Empathy
In sharp contrast to Jeremiah’s intense sorrow over his people’s apostasy, I saw how little we are moved by the sins or failings of fellow church members. Instead of agonizing in prayer, we gossip to—and about—one another. Feigning sympathy, we gleefully dissect and magnify, repeat and broadcast, the sins and faults of comrades until they become the theme of discussion in the whole church.
There is something unbecomingly heartless about Christians gratuitously gossiping about the fallen, because, in essence, all who fall into sin are wounded victims or captives of the devil. They are casualties of the great cosmic war between Christ and Satan. As such, to gouge their spiritual wounds is to traffic in their “bodies and souls” (Rev. 18:13). Indeed, so ghoulish is gossip that Paul, in Galatians 5:15, equates it with cannibalism, using graphic phrases such as “biting and devouring each other” to convey the effects of such behavior.
Then again, to rephrase Jesus’ words in Luke 15:10, if holy angels rejoice before God when one sinner repents, so do demons rejoice before the devil each time a saint falls. Accordingly, each time we secretly relish, flippantly
talk about, and eagerly spread the news of someone’s fall or faults, we join the demons’ victory celebration. We become, literally, the devil’s cheerleaders.
Is it not scandalous that we are quicker and more skillful at spreading the news of the devil’s monstrous work among the saints than proclaiming the gospel? More practiced at demolishing than building one another up? Even more, have we ever paused to ponder how all this grieves God, how it breaks His heart to see His children tearing one another apart?
Genesis 6:5, 6 says: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on earth had become . . . [and] the Lord was grieved that he had made man on earth, and his heart was filled with pain” (italics supplied). Yes, we become filled with pain, because sin is a deadly disease.
In Isaiah’s vivid description in Isaiah 1:6, sin infects the whole body, from the sole of the foot to the top of the head, leaving no healthy parts but only wounds, bruises, and open sores. If only we could grasp the reality of the malignancy of sin and its lethality, our hearts, like God’s, would be filled with anguish.
Redemption, Not Condemnation
Significantly, all the biblical prophets poignantly exemplified this divine pathos. A sublime example: After Saul rebelled against God, “Samuel [for a long time] mourned for him. And the Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel” (1 Sam. 15:35). How touching! Samuel and God united in grief over Saul’s rebellion. Joining with God, sharing His intense pathos over the fallen and the lost—this should be our fervent desire and incessant prayer.
The gospel specifically invites us into a “fellowship of sharing in his [Christ’s] sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). And Christ’s suffering, as Ellen G. White points out, comes “from a sense of the malignity of sin, a knowledge that through familiarity with evil, man [has] become blinded to its enormity.”*
Blind to the enormity of sin! May this be true of the world and never of us, who are called to be a special light to the world. Highly significant to our identity, sympathizing with and sharing Christ’s suffering over the enormity of evil is the mark that separates the true remnant from wicked pretenders.
Ezekiel 9:3-11 makes this point clear. Here the prophet is shown a vision in which God tells a man “clothed in linen” to “go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it” (italics supplied). The man “clothed in linen” is then followed by six angels, who are told to slaughter without pity or compassion all men, women, and children who do not have the seal on their foreheads. And the slaughter begins at the sanctuary of God, with the elders in front of the Temple.
That the slaughter begins at the sanctuary is an object lesson to us in God’s house today. If we do not share Christ’s deep anguish and love toward those whom the devil has wounded or captured, if we gratuitously gossip about rather than earnestly pray for them, then we are not on God’s side. Or to put it more directly, we are His enemies. And like God’s archenemies—the devil and his demons—we will suffer His righteous wrath.
Let us instead take Christ as our example and grieve for those who turn away from God, reaching out to them in love instead of malice.
*The Desire of Ages, pp. 752, 753.
Elijah Mvundura, a former history and sociology lecturer at Solusi University in Zimbabwe, lived in St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada, when he wrote this article.