For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:18
Just after Ron and I were married, we had a neighbor we got to know quite well. Her first question when seeing either of us was, “How are you?” If one of us said that we broke our ankle, her reply was, “I’ve done that!” If you had pancreatitis, again she would say, “Oh, I’ve had that.” Whether the flu, thyroid imbalance, or an ingrown toenail, she’s always ‘had that.’ It became a joke. How effective do you think her empathy was for whatever we were facing? Not very.
When scripture says that Jesus is perfectly able to help us in our time of need, there is His incarnation to back it up. I’m sure He understood us well without coming to earth but I don’t think we would have a deep assurance that He did. We needed to know that He lived here, made friends with those like us who were flawed, that He got sick, that He struggled with family, that He truly understands the layers of complexity that go with human pain. A year’s illness doesn’t just make you feel physically sick. It’s accompanied by temptations to question God, to explore how prayer works and wonder, at times, why God doesn’t answer the way you want.
No one can comfort like the one who has really walked the same road. If I experience the death of a child, I’m going to turn to one who has also lost a child. They are well familiar with the days surrounding the death. They know the numbness, the shock, and the surreal experience. They know the auto pilot that sets in at the funeral. They know that the absence of tears doesn’t mean there isn’t any grief. They can predict that three months down the road, there will be a moment when the loss will be more real and overwhelming. They know that I will really need comfort then, maybe more comfort than at the beginning. These subtle understandings of the journey are only found in those who have walked it. All those who say they understand probably don’t. And in our gut, we can tell the difference, right? The one who quotes a bible verse offers a Bandaid and is probably a quick study from someone else’s story.
There’s a difference between sympathy and empathy. “You poor thing” is not something any of us want to hear. It is not helpful nor is it encouraging. Empathy, however, is being able to feel another’s pain from firsthand experience. How comforting to hear, “There’s not a thing I can say to you right now but I want you to know that I’m here and I care.”
Jesus empathizes. Whatever crisis of faith you are experiencing, He understands and can walk you through it to generate faith instead of fear.
How many times have I heard you say in prayer, “I know.” I trust Your embrace and Your comfort. Amen