The Sympathy of Christ
The gospel story of Christ closes with the account of His ascension. “He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” (Mark 16:19)
Was that the end of His interest in this world? Does He think of us up there in His glory? Does He know anything of us down here in our struggles, our toils, our cares, and our sorrows? Is He interested in our lives in this world—in our joys and griefs, in our hopes and fears?
The answer to these questions is that even now in heaven He is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” (Hebrews 4:15) He sympathizes with us in every experience of our lives. The word sympathy means “suffering with.” If two stringed instruments near each are tuned to the same key, and a performer plays on one of them, the chords of the other respond, too, as if invisible finger were playing the same music on the strings. When two friends are side by side, and one of them is passing through an experience of either joy or pain, the other shares the experience. So Christ in heaven sympathizes with His friends on the earth in all their experiences, and is instantly touched with the feeling of their gladness and their grief. He has given His word: “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (John 14:18)
We believe all this as a doctrine, but what meaning has it for us in our own lives? What is Christ in heaven to us in a personal, practical way? If the truth of the sympathy of Christ becomes real in our experience, it will bring great strength and inspiration to us. In times of weakness or suffering we are often helped by the consciousness that human friends are thinking of us and sharing our trouble. Immeasurably greater is the help which it gives us to know that Christ in heaven is touched by our pain and feels with us.
If we are really conscious that Christ cares, that He feels with us, and is actually interested in all our affairs, large and small, it will change the meaning of all life for us.
“If I could only surely know
That all the things that tire me so
Were noticed by my Lord—
The pang that cuts me like a knife,
The lesser pains of daily strife—
What peace it would afford!
“I wonder if He really shares
In all these little human cares,
This mighty King of kings;
If He who guides through boundless space
Each blazing planet in its place
Can have the condescending grace
To mind these petty things.
“It seems to me, if sure of this,
Blent with each ill would come such bliss
That I might covet pain,
And deem whatever brought to me
The loving thought of Deity
And sense of Christ’s sweet sympathy,
Not loss, but richest gain.
“Dear Lord, my heart shall no more doubt
That Thou dost compass me about
With sympathy divine:
The love for me once crucified
Is not the love to leave my side,
But waiteth ever to divide
Each smallest care of mine.”
We have hints of the same truth in the Old Testament. For example, we read with reference to God’s people: “In all their affliction he was afflicted.” (Isaiah 63:9) But the New Testament teaching means far more than this, for Christ Himself lived all the story of human life through to its close, and therefore knows it by experience. When we are weary, it comforts us to remember that many times He was weary, too. When we are treated unfairly, unkindly, or even with bitter wrong, it strengthens us to know that He understands, because He suffered in the same way. In our temptations it helps us to endure to remember that He was “was in all points tempted like as we are.” (Hebrews 4:15) In any path in which we have to walk we can always find His footprints—He went over the same way before us, and therefore understands and sympathizes with us.
Through the many difficult experiences of life, we will find great comfort if we truly realize the sympathy of Christ. For example, we may be misunderstood. Indeed, there is no one whom others always fully understand. Even our truest friends may wrongly interpret what we do or say. Little things separate lives which ought to be kept close together. Very much sadness is caused by misunderstandings.
“Not understood! How many hearts are aching
For lack of sympathy! Ah, day by day,
How many cheerless, lonely hearts are breaking,
How many noble spirits pass away
“O God! that men would see a little clearer,
Or judge less harshly when they cannot see.
O God! that men might draw a little nearer
To one another. They’d be nearer Thee,
[Thomas Bracken; “Not Understood,” 1879]
But Christ understands us perfectly. He knows all the truth about us. He knows our faults, and is patient with them. He does not chide us, nor cast us off because of them, but helps us to overcome them. When we are blamed unjustly, He understands and sympathizes with us and strengthens us to go on in patience. When we have done wrong, He knows that too, but is pitiful toward our weakness, and shows great mercy to the broken and contrite heart. In every mood of our experience He sympathizes with us.
There are sorrows in every life, many of which are inexplicable. There are those whose quietest days are full of struggles of which their closest friends know nothing. You may find it very hard to be good, to resist temptation, to keep sweet under irritation and insult, to maintain purity of heart amid all the enticements of temptation. Nothing else gives such strength and help in hard experiences as knowing of the unfailing sympathy of Christ. We greatly benefit from the living example He left behind: “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
The superintendent of an alcoholic asylum said that he always had hope of even the worst case of intemperance, if he knew that the man had someone at home who loved him and was praying for him; but that he had little hope of permanent reform where there was no wrestling love at home. If there is such help in human love and interest and prayer, how much more must there be in the confidence that Christ is sympathizing and interceding? “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)
The following story is told of a distinguished woman. In her childhood she was so homely that even her mother said to her one day, “My poor child, you are so ugly that no one will ever love you.” The cruel words fell into the child’s heart, but instead of making her bitter they had just the opposite effect. She determined that if her face was homely she would make her life so beautiful that people would love her anyway. So she sought to be kind to everybody, to be loving, thoughtful, gentle, helpful. She never became handsome in features, but she did become the good angel of the community in which she lived. It was love in her heart that transformed her life and saved her from utter despair.
There are many whose lives have been hurt in some way, and who seem doomed to carry their marring or wounding through all their days. But the love of Christ can yet restore even them to beauty and strength. There is no ruin which He cannot build up again into fair loveliness. There is no defeat which He cannot turn into victory.
To know that He—the Christ on His throne of glory—is touched with the feeling of our infirmities gives us confidence to come boldly before that throne of grace, and find help for each and every need (Hebrews 4:15-16). This key of promise puts into the heart a new secret of joy which will transform the dreariest life into heavenly gladness.