Empathy and the Kingdom: Part 5, The Wisdom of the Kingdom

Last post in this series.

If you've followed me to this point you likely see where my mind is going.

Generally, when we talk about empathy, love and the mission of the church, we frame all these things universally. Empathy and love for the entire world. To suggest anything less is sacrilege.

And yet...

And yet, as we've discussed there are issues, problems even, with non-specific, free-floating,  universalized empathy. This isn't to say--LET ME BE VERY CLEAR!--that we don't display sympathetic compassion for every bit of suffering in the world. Just the suggestion that empathy evolved--biologically and/or providentially--to do its work in a small, more local, and intimate arena of action. Empathy, I'm suggesting, is best suited and always does its best work when we are looking at each other face to face.

And if that's true then I think it reframes one of the more embarrassing aspects of the Bible, the very unfashionable teaching that love should be especially focused upon the church. Do good to everyone, but especially our brothers and sisters.

That just doesn't sound right to us, that narrow focus. But might there be some wisdom here? Might the arena of God's actions to save the world, the local community of Christ followers, be perfectly and providentially suited to fit human moral psychology?

Our moral psychology is ideally suited for intimate, neighborly and face to face interactions. And that's the exact mission and work God has called us to to reconcile all things, the local and intimate work of caring for and living at peace with a specific group of people I'm sharing life with.

Again, to be clear--AND LET ME BE VERY CLEAR!--this isn't to suggest that universalized empathy and universalized love for the entire world are bad and should be shut down. This is just the simple observation that there is a psychological and biblical convergence when it comes to the arena of love.

Love works best when it is face to face. God's mission and our hearts--empathy and the kingdom--are well-matched in this regard.

All that to say...

...when our empathy and love becomes pulled in too many directions...

...or when we feel that the burden to love the entire world is too heavy for one heart to carry, burning us out and making us anxious and depressed and ill...

...or when our love is becoming more abstract and emotional than behavioral and sacrificial, trapped on Facebook rather than pouring into intimate relationships...

...God and our own hearts continually call us back to rest into the little, intimate, mustard seed, cup of cold water work of loving the people God has given us this day.

Perhaps we love the whole world best when we love a piece of it fully and well.

Maybe there is wisdom and salvation in that.

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