I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.
Psalm 34:4 KJV
John’s post yesterday was very painful for me to read. To glimpse the vulnerability of men – the struggles and the brokenness – and know that I’ve slashed at that vulnerability so many times is hard. But then, I don’t suppose it’s easy for anyone to look out over a bloody field after the battle. And sometimes I forget that this world is at war, and peace is the anomaly, not fighting. John’s post was a vivid reminder that “we wrestle NOT with flesh and blood…” It also reminded me of a particularly shocking encounter that I had with God concerning my lack of empathy.
Empathy is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another” without them explicitly telling you those things. At the Nuremberg trials (1945-1949), the Army psychologist Captain G. M. Gilbert observed:
“In my work with the defendants (the Nazis), I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”
Considering that the Spirit was confronting me with my lack of empathy for men, I was sick at the thought of what awaited me apart from God’s intervention. Now, He didn’t tell me that I was a Nazi. He told me that I was on that path, that apart from Jesus, we’re all on that path and some of us go further down it than others. I didn’t toss babies out the window like Johanna Altvater, but I did nurse fear, bitterness, and rage until I began to see and speak in the vicious generalities that obliterate compassion and individuality at the same time. “All men are ______!”
“Heartless, cruel, scornful, brutish, emotionless, without compassion, incapable of true love”—these are just a few of the lies about men that my fearful heart received. In bitterness I repeated those lies and passed them on, and in rage, I began to believe them. I told myself that I would reserve my hate for the men who deserved it and spare the men who didn’t (family and friends), but that’s not how it works. “We wrestle NOT with flesh and blood…”
When I indulged my fear and bitterness and rage, I opened the door to evil and evil is not a tidy houseguest. It defiles everything it touches and there’s no keeping it contained. I thought that I could hate just a little. I’d been hurt and I felt entitled to my hate and fear and rage. It was my right! And the Lord showed me that the more I petted my entitlement, the less empathy I had for men in general, let alone the ones in my life. They became – in my mind and heart – exactly what the lies called them.
Between my posts on forgiveness and John’s heart-wrecker yesterday, I find myself seeing this stage of my life more clearly than ever. It is forgiveness that uproots bitterness before it kills off the rest of our hearts. It is forgiveness that moved the mountains of fear and rage in my heart to make room for all the Love I so desperately needed. And it’s God’s forgiveness of me and my evil – His miraculous salvation – that brought great empathy and love for men into a heart virtually devoid of either.
We’re all broken people in a broken world on a bloody battlefield apart from Jesus Christ. Too often we are blinded by pain and fear and can’t see anything else, so the brokenness spreads and the battle rages on, bloody as ever. But it always bears reminding, “we wrestle NOT with flesh and blood…”