Can there be such a thing as misdirected compassion? I believe there is, the words we use to describe how we relate to people in trouble giving us a clue as to how that might happen. Such as sympathizing with someone, sharing and understanding their feelings and ideas to the extent that we at times actually participate in their struggle and emotional ordeals. Having empathy, on the other hand, involves intellectually and emotionally identifying with others while remaining separate enough from their circumstances to offer reasonable, practical solutions. The difference most readily shown in the way some respond to a drowning victim. We can jump up and down, screaming hysterically or even jump in with them – floundering around until both of us drown. Or get help, jump in and pull them to safety. Both solutions express a recognition of their perilous condition, but only one actually gives them a real chance at rescue and survival.

Examples of what I consider misdirected compassion today would be the much ballyhooed distribution of condoms on high school and college campuses; birth control pills likewise handed out to young girls – some in Middle School – safe houses for drug addicts, not for rehabilitation but for “protection” from dirty needles – where new syringes are provided for use on a daily basis; the new “religion” of diversity which demands we embrace – not merely tolerate – gay lifestyles as different but normal; the long-standing promotion of a live and let live philosophy toward others’ personal lives – which often includes unmarried and multi-partner sex – even as those personal lifestyles often spill over into the lives of still others; and our often indulgent attitude concerning prostitution, offering free check-ups for disease and meds if any are found – again not to discourage such behavior but to ensure safety in its practice.

Don’t get me wrong! Christians should be at the forefront of efforts to aid needy and hurting people; but understanding the circumstances that contributed to a person’s “predicament” shouldn’t lead us to excuse bad behavior. Nor should the realization that none of us are perfect induce us to overlook the shortcomings of others. For compassion isn’t defined by what we condone, nor does the call for change equal condemnation. Some have taken the live and let live philosophy to its logical conclusion, calling for the de-criminalization of acts that have for years been deemed immoral and/or illegal. (Highlighted just this week by two articles in national publications virtually promoting the efforts of transgender “Drag Queens” – in full regalia – to normalize their behavior by going to local libraries during children’s hour to read to the kids, the other extolling the Swiss system of legalized prostitution and their new innovation – drive-up facilities – to enhance the experience for their busy patrons.) The real question being: Will that make them any less dangerous and destructive? Or are we just feeling overwhelmed by our seeming inability to impact others behavior, and are therefore tempted to change how we describe it; sanitizing it so there is less responsibility on our part, vainly attempting to remove or disguise the consequences – further removing any impetus for change.

For years now, Jesus has been used as the poster-child of an all-encompassing love that expects nothing in return and holds no one responsible for their actions; which is found nowhere in scripture. In fact, Jesus can at times appear intolerant and did indeed react violently – at least once – to the behavior of those who claimed one thing but did another. (Mark 11:15-17)

In fact, in responding to a young man who claimed he was living a morally good life, Jesus demanded even more; profoundly disappointing him and surprising even Jesus’ disciples. (Matthew 19:16-20) And he scathingly rebuked those who should have known better and done more; calling them hypocrites, blind guides, white-washed tombs (prettied up on the outside yet full of death, decay and defilement), snakes and a brood of vipers! (Matthew 23) Offering a solution to their self-imposed predicament, he first accused them of, “… cleansing the outside of the cup and dish, but inside (you) are full of greed and self-indulgence… First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will also be clean.” Matthew 23:25,26

Some are quick to point out that many of these vehement proclamations were directed at the sanctimonious religious leaders plaguing Jesus’ ministry, which is largely true; but to assume that makes any and every assertive statement by a “religious” person suspect is untrue and unfair. Jesus did indeed attempt to be understanding and tolerant of people trapped in the clutches of sin – as they looked to him for help in extricating themselves from its allure and consequences. Even the episode of the adulterous woman found in John 8:1-11, used by many to demonstrate Jesus’ non-condemning approach to sinners, is misapplied, making a point not intended. The adulterous woman was indeed being used as a pawn by Jesus’ antagonists to confuse the issue and trap him into saying something offensive to those thronged about him. (Having brought to him a woman “caught in the act” without bringing the man with whom she was “acting” with. See Leviticus 20:10) But he was too wise to allow them to use him or her in that way. Realizing their intent, he turned the question of what to do with her on them, certainly removing the spotlight from her but not excusing her sin. In fact, he did refuse to condemn her but never-the-less instructed her to stop sinning; one example of many where Jesus deflected undeserved or misdirected criticism of sinners, an act of genuine tolerance many found difficult to accept. But he never espoused an anything goes philosophy of acceptance either, always identifying sin for what it really was, regardless of who practiced it; calling for its removal from their lives in repentance and obedience. (Matthew 4:17; Mark 6:7-12, Luke 13:1-5 and John 14:15,21 & 23)

In a number of ways, Jesus’ and John the Baptist’s ministries mirrored each other; calling for repentance, giving advice, scolding those who deserved it and offering mercy to those who responded appropriately. And like Jesus, John’s ministry included, “…preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”; challenging those who responded to then, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Luke 3:3 & 8 (See also Matthew 7:16-20)

The key being to recognize sin for what it really is, often manifesting itself as self-inflicted harm, without developing an air of condemnation; calling on people entrapped by such behavior to cease and desist – for their own good! – while giving practical help and support in pursuit of that goal. Patterning our responses after Jesus who said, “…neither do I condemn you,… (But) Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:11