Well, it's not a disease....in fact, it's an emotion. More than that, it's an action. But it does have something to do with your stomach!
I've been reading through Isaiah and today's reading (actually yesterday and today....I didn't read yesterday and had two days to do today) had one wonderful verse after another. God is warning His people that if they don't repent, He will have to punish them to bring them to their senses. But He doesn't want to do that and so He begs them to repent. The Lord says that his
"people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men." (Isaiah 29:13)
He begs them to repent saying, "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength." (Isaiah 30:15)
"Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!" (Isaiah 30:18)
"How gracious he will be when you cry for help! as soon as he hears, he will answer you." (Isaiah 30:21)
The word and the concept here that really grabbed me is "compassion". Reading these verses took me back to a message I heard back in January in which the meaning of the word compassion struck me like it never had before. George Murray, the chancellor of CIU, was speaking at Cedarville University's missions conference. He was speaking on Matthew 9:36, which says, "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
Mr. Murray explained how the word translated compassion is "splagchnizomai" in Greek. Now, not being a Greek scholar, that means little to me. But it means that it is a physical pain that hits you right in the gut.
Having spent time in Africa, I know what it is like to feel physical pain in your gut. Anybody who has had a good case of amoebas or giardia knows what I'm talking about! Sometimes that pain hits you so hard, you just double over with it. Grabbing your stomach, you make a run for the bathroom.
Or imagine how you feel when you're scared out of your mind. It hits you right in the stomach, doesn't it, sometimes making you literally sick to your stomach.
This is what Jesus felt when he saw the crowds of people and had compassion on them. It is what God felt when he begged the people to repent and that he would forgive them. It is what God felt when He sent His Son so we could find true repentance. The word picture here is like somebody punched Jesus in the gut and he was bent double with the pain. (Note: I wish I could give credit to the artist of this beautiful picture....I found it on the internet, but with no explanation of origin).
I wondered if today's meaning of compassion differs from the sense of the word splagchnizomai, so I looked it up. The dictionary says it is "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering." Well, I wouldn't say it is as strong as splagchnizomai but it does give the idea of a strong desire to do something about it.
The definition in Wikipedia was much more helpful. It said that the original meaning of the word was "to suffer with". It also said that an individual's compassion is "often given a property of 'depth', 'vigour', or 'passion'". The idea is that it isn't just an emotion that you feel, but it is an emotion of feeling the same pain somebody else is experiencing and then doing something about it.
So, when God felt compassion on His people, He did something about it. In the Old Testament, He gave them opportunities to repent and promised to be gracious to them. He showed His compassion by sending His Son.
When Jesus felt compassion for the crowds, he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." (Mt.9:37, 38) He sent His disciples out to spread the Good News!
He also laid His hands on people and healed the sick (Mt.14:14; 20:34; Mark 1:41;).
He fed them (Mt. 15:32; Mark 8:2).
He forgave them (Mt. 18:27).
He taught them (Mark 6:34).
He drove out demons (Mark 9:22).
He comforted the bereaved and raised their dead to life (Luke 7:13).
He also gave us two stories that demonstrate compassion: The Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.
I have felt this kind of compassion for people. I have looked at them and felt a pain deep inside for what they are going through. But in Niger, the needs are so great and when you are constantly faced with this gut-wrenching feeling you soon begin to harden yourself so that you don't feel that pain. Sad to say, but after awhile you can turn from a beggar and not feel anything. You can go to yet another funeral and not shed a tear. You can even feel yourself becoming cynical and bitter.
What a reminder from Jesus. I can't imagine that He ever thought, "This hurts too much. I'll just ignore these people today." Lord, help me not to turn from the pain I feel when seeing somebody in need....pain that motivates me to help them. Help me, instead, to know how to handle the pain, how to act wisely in dealing with it so that I don't burn out from the constant pain I see around me. Help me to be willing to feed, to clothe, to heal, and most of all, to spread the Good News to those who are as sheep without a shepherd.
In researching splagchnizomai I came across a blog written by a Catholic priest who sums it up so beautifully. Please take a moment to read this article by the Perpetual Priest. I do not know who this man is, but I loved this article.