I’d like to share a story with you about compassion or rather the lack there of. This is a true tale with a twist. It’s an experience where it turns out the person you thought you knew so well turns out to be completely different. Revelations come to light and your whole world changes. It’s about compassions lost.

The story starts in 1993 with an eleven year old girl named Axton who was living what seemed to be a normal life in rural Indiana. Her father was a manager of a grocery chain and her mother was an accountant. Her grandfather lived next door. It was a pleasant family life. However, in 1993 pieces of the family’s mail began to slowly disappear. It just didn’t arrive. Mail such as magazines, pen pal letters and bills. This was the days before the internet so it became very frustrating paying the bills. Originally, they thought someone was stealing their mail so they got a post office box but the problem continued. Now they thought it was somebody inside the post office so they went to the police but back in those days there was little the police could do. This was the start of a trend which we know today as identity theft. A crime where someone uses your personal information to establish credit and steal money in your name.

As an eleven year old child, Axton really didn’t think much of this until she was a sophomore in college. She was excited to move into an apartment of her own and when she went to the electric company to establish service they said they would need a hundred dollar deposit because of her bad credit score. That was surprising to her because up to this point she had never had a loan or credit card. When she got her credit report she was shocking to find there were ten pages of bad credit and collection agency notices dating back to 1993. Her credit score was in the bottom 2% of the entire nation. Even though she was a child at the time someone stole her identity as well and now she would live through the embarrassment and aggravation of trying to make things right.

The first person she called was her Mom and she started crying saying, “I will never own anything. I will never be able to own a car. I will never be able to own a home. I will never have a credit card. I will never get to do the things everybody else does because someone did this to me.” Remember at the time there were no laws to help the victims of identity theft. Her mother was shocked and said, “Whoever has done this to us, it’s likely not a personal vendetta. It was just an opportunity for them to gain financially and you’ve got to live with it.” That did not sit well with Axton so she decided to make identity theft the research subject for her Master’s degree and PhD. She became an expert on it. It became her life.

On the exact day she got her PhD her mother was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. She passed away in February of 2013. She had always been very close with her mother and felt a tragic loss. Ten days after her mother’s death she got a phone call from her father. He was upset, saying, “what were you doing running a credit card over the limit back in 2001?” She said, “Dad, I didn’t. What are you talking about?” He said, “Don’t lie to me I have the credit card statement in my hand. I don’t know what’s going on but I found it in a file folder with your birth certificate.” Suddenly Axton’s blood ran cold. She knew right then that it was her mother who had stolen her identity. By the time she got home, her father had found many documents which implicated her mother in identity theft, tax evasion and employment fraud to the tune of $500,000 over twenty years. This devastated Axton, completely blindsided her, because her very own mother turned out to be a stranger.[1] She had never really known her true mother.

For me this was hard to understand. The compassion and love of a mother to her child is one of the greatest things in this life. Axton, of course, wondered why. Why was there no compassion or guilt? Being the scholar she was, she studied it and came to the conclusion that her Mom was a psychopath.

I thought, a psychopath was always somebody like a serial killer. There are a lot of psychopaths in penitentiaries but there are also functional psychopaths. Researchers and experts in the field believe that one percent of the US population meet the criteria of a psychopath. With a population of over 300 million people, that means there may be more the 3 million true psychopaths in the United States alone.[2] More than likely, you’ve meet a few. They can be quite successful.

What is a psychopath? Here are ten key indicators from Ronald Schouten[3] of the Harvard Medical School to identify a psychopath.

  1. Are they superficially charming and glib, with an answer for everything?
  2. Is there a lack of empathy, i.e., an impaired ability to understand and appreciate the emotions of others and the impact of their behavior on people?
  3. Confronted with a difficult moral choice, do they more often than not rationalize and arrive at a decision to act in their own self-interest?
  4. Do they lie repeatedly, including when it is unnecessary or for minor reasons?
  5. Are they conning and manipulative?
  6. When they get criticized for something, is it always someone else’s fault?
  7. When they cause harm or hurt to others, is there a lack of true remorse?
  8. Do they seem to have limited capacity to experience and express feelings for others or maintain relationships?
  9. Do they find it easy to ignore responsibilities?
  10. Do people and situations exist solely for the purpose of gratifying their needs and wants?

This is a list of the works of the flesh and you might recognize some indicators in yourself. It doesn’t mean you’re a psychopath though. These are people who wholly and consistently think and act this way. Imagine 3 million people who think like this.

The point of all this is to look more carefully at the second indicator, which says, “Is there a lack of empathy, i.e., an impaired ability to understand and appreciate the emotions of others and the impact of their behavior on people?” People like this have no ability for compassion. No feelings of empathy. No pity. This is a problem that experts recognize yet that same doctor also says,

“One consideration with children who exhibit early signs of psychopathy is whether they can be taught empathy. Most researchers think this is unlikely.”[4]

That to me is surprising. Do you believe that you cannot learn empathy? Now people with a mental illness can be in a very dark and lonely place. It’s just not that easy to say they should read their Bibles more or pray harder. It can be a very hard and difficult struggle with no easy answers. However, I believe that God can be an anchor in times of trouble. I believe that the word of God can transform the mind. Without the love of God, it’s hard to realize how much more dire our situation would be.

Compassion is a chief quality of God. Jesus, as the divine manifestation of the Father, was moved with compassion. If we are to be like God and His Son then we too have to “put on” compassion. It’s as necessary to our discipleship as breathing is to life. We have to be able to grow in compassion. If we can’t do that then there truly is something wrong with us. Let’s then take the rest of our time together to consider the compassion of God and Christ followed by the importance of us showing that same empathy towards others.

A God Full of Compassion

In the Old Testament, the only one to be called compassionate is God. The adjective is first used is in Exodus 34:6. Reading from the NASB which says,

“Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth;’”

Here was Moses feeling the dreadful and powerful presence of the Almighty God. A glory so awesome that would annihilate any man exposed to it. Here is Moses, sheltered in this cleft of the rock, sweating, shaking. No man had ever been so close to God. In the midst of all this there is a voice. The first thing Moses hears is, “Yahweh, Yahweh El, compassionate…”

This is the ultimate declaration of the character of Yahweh and it starts with God saying he is compassionate. The King James has the word “mercy” here. This can be confusing because the word “goodness” in verse 6 is also translated as “mercy” in other passages. There are shades of meaning here but they are important. I know a young man who many years ago, marked all these in his Bible. It was a very helpful exercise because the KJV is not consistent in how it translates.

First of all, that word “goodness” is the Hebrew word “chesed” which has the idea of steadfast love (ESV) because it has to do with covenant. It is a covenanted and dedicated lovingkindness that God has towards those that love him.

On the other hand, the first quality of God, “mercy” is from a Hebrew word “rachuwm” which mean compassionate. It’s a very interesting word because it also has the idea of the bowels or the womb. Both the Hebrew and the Greek has a connection between this part of the body and the feeling of compassion. The inward parts were the seat of emotion. It seems very fitting then to be associated with the womb as it portrays the feelings of a mother to their child. You might recall when Solomon was about to divide the disputed child in half it says of the real mother that “her bowels yearned upon her son.” (1 Kings 3:26, NKJV “yearned with compassion”).

This is the way God feels towards his people. It is crystal clear in Isaiah 49:15,

“Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy (H7355 rachuwm) upon his afflicted.  (14)  But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.  (15)  Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion (H7355 rachuwm) on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”

Such is the enduring compassion of God, like a mother to the son of her womb, God will never forget. Why should God be so compassionate? Psalm 103: 13-14 gives us the answer,

“Like as a father pitieth (H7355 rachuwm) his children, so the LORD pitieth (H7355 rachuwm) them that fear him.  (14)  For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”

Reading this from the NASB,

“Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. (14) For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”

God is not unmindful of our state. We are weak mortal human beings. God understands the disparity between us and in his compassion, he sent his Son to die for our sins. You’ll notice the Psalmist in verse 8 quotes from Exodus 34:6 with such beautiful words that emphasize God’s compassion (notice no mention of truth),

Psalms 103:8-18 KJV  The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.  (9)  He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever.  (10)  He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.  (11)  For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him.  (12)  As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”

God’s compassion is ultimately about the forgiveness of sins that we might have life. It is conditional as it is upon those that fear him, that keep covenant and remember his commandments to do them (v. 18) but what a wonderful promise of mercy we have extended to us if we but love him.

Jesus was Moved with Compassion

As God dominates the ideal of compassion in the Old Testament so does his Son in the gospel accounts. I think the best demonstration of this is from Mark 6:30-34.

“And the apostles gathered themselves together unto Jesus, and told him all things, both what they had done, and what they had taught.  (31)  And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.  (32)  And they departed into a desert place by ship privately.  (33)  And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him.  (34)  And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.”

This was a time just after Herod beheaded John the Baptist. Besides that, it was also an extremely busy time. Jesus felt the weight of it all so he looked from some time alone. He looked for a place of solitude where he could recharge the batteries. All of us can understand that but how would you feel if your vacation was interrupted? Here you are on a boat, giving a little sigh because you are away from it all for just awhile, some solitude. However, that feeling doesn’t last for long as you see people running along the shore line and you realize you’re not going to escape. I think most of us would be infuriated, angry at how inconsiderate they were… but not Jesus. He was “moved with compassion” because they were as “sheep having no shepherd.”

How did Jesus do it? He felt for these people. He must have put himself in their position. They were desperate. They needed the word of God first and foremost, so he began to teach. How often in your life do you look out on the crowds of humanity and have compassion? How often do you feel for people who haven’t had the same opportunities as you? It should drive us towards compassion. It should drive us to preaching and sharing.

Our Bowels of Mercies

Consider the example of God and Jesus and ask yourself if empathy is something that you have to work on, to remember and to do. To a certain degree we all share those traits of a psychopath to put ourselves first, to turn the shoulder and to not consider what another is going through. God recognizes our weaknesses in this regard and thus he commands us in Zech. 7:9-10,

“Thus speaketh the LORD of hosts, saying, Execute true judgment, and shew mercy and compassions every man to his brother:  (10)  And oppress not the widow, nor the fatherless, the stranger, nor the poor; and let none of you imagine evil against his brother in your heart.”

In this verse is an interesting mix of judgment and compassion. True judgement involves mercy and compassion. Likewise, compassion cannot be realized apart from truth and judgment. God beautifully balances mercy in truth and he’s calling us to do the same. He’s asking us to change our way of thinking as he says in verse 10 to not even think about being without compassion “in our hearts”.

One final passage in this regards is from Colossians 3:12,

“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;”

The word “compassion” is not here in the KJV as in other translations but we do have a nice literal translation of it, “bowels of mercies”. It comes back to the inward parts, the seat of tender affections. The feeling of a parent to a child. We are commanded here to “put on” these things, to learn them and to grow in them. Just as compassion was the first quality of God in Exodus 34:6 so too here we are asked, first of all, to “put on…. bowels of mercies.” These are the qualities that make for good relationships and compassion is the first thing. If there are quarrels and strife, then no doubt compassion is missing.


We come here now, at this moment, to really reflect on the compassion of God. To acknowledge the one who by his compassions will subdue our iniquities, and cast them into the sea. We are so thankful that our Father recognizes our frame and that we are but dust. In this breaking of bread, we reflect on his Son who manifested that same character and gave his life for ours. How can we not respond in the same way? Let us therefore “put on” those “bowels of mercies” and learn these things for they are not earthly but heavenly.


[2] Ibid, pg. 29.

[3] Ronald Schouten, MD, JD and James Silver, JD, “Almost a Psychopath”, pg. 53

[4] Ibid, pg. 140.