Millennia before my children were diagnosed with a serious genetic condition or my friend’s marriage dissolved, before my grandmother developed dementia or my husband’s year of unemployment, our heavenly Father knew how the curse of sin would play out in my life and yours. He knew how it would infect, distort, confuse, and dismay us. And he showed compassion by sending Jesus to carry the curse to the cross on our behalf; to say, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
As Christians, we know of Jesus, our ransom; of our debt paid, hope restored, and future certain. Yet so often we forget. We disconnect God’s compassion as expressed in the gospel from our everyday experience. So how can we remember?
King David wrote Psalm 103 to be sung by a choir. When individual voices blended into one, they reminded one another of God’s story. They remembered how God had acted in Israel’s past, how he had shown compassion to his people; but they also looked ahead, encouraging one another to consider that “the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children” (Ps. 103:17).
The best thing we can say or do is remind someone in a trial of what God has done for us in the gospel.
Especially as people who live on the other side of Christ’s resurrection, we too ought to “sing” to one another, reminding one another of God’s faithfulness in the past and his present and future promises. And while there often are practical ways to show compassion to someone in a trial, the best thing we can say or do is remind someone (or be reminded) of what God has done for us in the gospel.
Compassion and the Gospel
There’s one couple who stands out as having done this for me. More than 20 years later, I still feel the transformative effects of a pivotal conversation around a table in a small office.
In 2000, I was an unmarried 20-something living 250 miles away from my family. My grandmother was dying from Alzheimer’s. I would travel home to visit for a few days at a time, then leave feeling distraught that there was nothing more I could do. Each tedious mile of my drive increased my physical separation from the grieving family I loved so much.
As I sat with this mature Christian couple, I paused only to wipe my nose between sobs. I was lamenting the gradual loss of my grandmother, for sure, but I was also coming to grips with a brokenness in my family and in the world that the immediate circumstance had surfaced. As I poured out my woes, these dear friends patiently listened.
Instead of offering platitudes as Band-Aids, they helped me connect the gospel to my experience. They acknowledged the truth of what was becoming so apparent to me: we do live in a fallen world filled with all manner of suffering. They encouraged me not to harden my heart but to remain “thin-hearted”—to continue to feel deeply and so mirror our compassionate heavenly Father. And not just that day, but throughout our friendship, they’ve repeatedly urged me to preach the gospel of God’s grace to my soul—all the time, but especially when I’m distressed.
For the gospel is God’s primary expression of compassion toward his people. God’s pity on fallen, sinful humankind in a fallen, sinful world led him to act decisively in history. When the weight of sorrow in this world is so heavy that it threatens to overwhelm us, we ought to remind one another, as my friends have frequently reminded me, that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor. 15:3). Yes, we feel the weight of sorrow, but Jesus already paid our greatest debt and met our greatest need. One day, these tears will be wiped away (Rev. 21:4).
Singing the Gospel
Friends who sit with us, listen, and metaphorically sing the gospel to our souls are true gifts. But similar to David’s choir, we’re meant to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” literally as well (Eph. 5:19). Corporate singing benefits those who live thin-hearted in a thick-skinned world.
Fast-forward a decade or so and, in the year following my children’s diagnoses, I certainly felt thin-hearted. Walking into church, all it would take was one person’s compassion—a simple “How are you doing, Katie?”—and I would crumple.
I’d join my family in the sanctuary, still wiping away tears. Then, after hugging my older children and settling the smaller ones, I’d glance around the room. I’d notice the couple who just lost a baby through miscarriage. The mom who I knew felt ill-equipped to parent her strong-willed child. The man who lost his job last week. The couple caring for elderly parents.
The music would start, and again, tears would flow. I’d stand with the congregation and think: Thin-hearted. Remain thin-hearted. Welcome godly lament. Don’t try to hide behind a facade or allow bitterness to callus your soul. Experience God’s compassion. Think about his great love and all he’s done for you. Pour out your heart to him. Sing!
When our voices blend together in corporate singing, we declare our dependence, gratitude, and praise to the Lord. We grieve and celebrate before him.
When our voices blend together in corporate singing, we declare our dependence, gratitude, and praise to the Lord.
But we also sing to the family in front of us, the single behind us, and the couple on the other side of the room. All of us—the bewildered parents, addicts, restless children, weary pastors, cancer patients, and teenagers fighting for sexual purity—sing to each other. We remind one another of the gospel and our shared hope in Christ. We exhort one another to believe and trust.
We sing, “Bless the LORD, O my soul,” and we remember “all his benefits” (Ps. 103:1–2). Death defeated. The forgiveness of our sins. The promise of heaven. The worth of Christ and the glory of God. As we do, our heavenly Father extends compassion to all of us.