Feeling Empathy

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. -Exodus 23:9 

Dear members and friends,

Empathy and sympathy could be two most valuable and important qualities to have as a human being. Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” while sympathy is defined as “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” While we find occasional use of the word sympathy in the Bible, “empathy” does not appear at all. In fact, the word empathy didn’t even appear in the English language until 1909 when Edward Bradford Titchener translated the German word Einfühlung, which literally means “feeling-in.” What this means is that empathy is somewhat a modern concept while sympathy has been used for a long time. 

The English word empathy originated from the Greek word empatheia, which is a combined word of em- (in) and pathos (feeling). According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the Greek word pathos means “suffering,” “experience,” or “emotion.” Pathos was borrowed by the English language in the 16th century and usually refers to the emotions produced by tragedy or a depiction of tragedy. Therefore, empathy could mean experiencing the feelings or suffering of another “in” oneself. Meanwhile, the English word sympathy originated from the Greek word sumpatheia, which is a combined word of sum- (with) and pathos (feeling). Consequently, sympathy could mean being connected with the feeling of another. However, the sad reality is that our world is not filled with empathetic or sympathetic people. The essential challenge of cultivating empathy or sympathy is the self-centeredness of human mentality, which fundamentally disables human minds from feeling the suffering or experiences of others as real as their own.   

My brothers and sisters in God, I invite you to meditate on Exodus 23:9, “you know the heart of an alien for you were aliens.”  This simple teaching enlightens our mind with two truths: 1. We are essentially self-centered. Unless we feel something in our own heart, that something does not become real to us. 2. If we are willing to do so, we are capable of perceiving and understanding others deeply and spiritually. 

Blessings, Rev. Lee