Compassion is an important word in the Bible.
It describes the Lord. He acts with compassion. He calls His people to be compassionate as He is.
For the LORD will vindicate his peopleDeuteronomy 32:36 (ESV)
and have compassion on his servants,
when he sees that their power is gone
and there is none remaining, bond or free.
Compassion means to “comfort or console” someone else in the Old Testament terminology. It means “to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity)” in the New Testament.1
Bowels. Not a word we use every day.
But the meaning is that there is a whole body response to the hurt of someone else. We truly feel their pain. We are moved to respond to their difficulties from the depths of our being.
Today I ran across a passage that speaks to this.
If anyone sins in that he hears a public adjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall bear his iniquity…Leviticus 5:1 (ESV)
This is compassion. “Adjuration” means a call. It means that there is a need for those who have witnessed or heard of sinful action to speak up. They are “called” to speak up.
When you combine this call to action and compassion, it says to me that if I wanted someone to stand up for me as a witness to the abuse I had or am receiving from a boss or husband or parent, then I would feel the need to do the same for someone else when I witness or hear of it.
Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
This is what we call “advocacy.” Sometimes the words to describe the suffering of violence don’t come for victims and they need that witness to advocate for them. To go to those church leaders. To go to the board of directors. To confront the oppressor.
To go to someone who has the power to make a change.
Scripture tells us that we bear the guilt of silence if we do not answer that call to stand by the side of victims of abuse.
Remember the passage says either witness or come to know of the matter. Have you come to know of abuse? Has your friend told you a little of their boss or husband’s abusive behavior? Has someone else mentioned that so-and-so is abusive to their employee or spouse?
And advocate for them. Our compassionate God has called you to it.
Darby Strickland, a counselor who has written excellent resources for churches handling abuse, says the following:
“Before engaging an oppressive husband [or boss], know the risks of realitation and plan according.”2Darby Strickland
Strickland goes on to note that if the woman, and I would add employee, is concerned about her safety when engaging the abuser, then back off. Being compassionate and advocating for the victim means in this case to stand down and wait for there to be safety before confronting the abuser.
1 James Strong, The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, Expanded edition (Thomas Nelson, 2010).
2 Note: Advocating must be done at the direction of the victim. Their safety from retaliation must be foremost in the advocate’s thinking as they determine future steps.