Sin and Compassion

Dave Farcas

Some define sin as breaking the law or defying conventional morality. This is how the Pharisees, for the most part, viewed Jesus and they accused him of being a sinner. But Jesus wasn't motivated by the pious, religious, sensibilities of polite, "God fearing society." His sole motivation was COMPASSION. In fact, the writers of the Gospels used a remarkable Greek verb to convey the depth of His compassion: splagchnizomai (splagcnizomai) (Mk. 1:41, Mt. 20:34, Lk.7:13, Mk.8:2) It is usually translated "to have compassion or pity", but these are only approximate translations. Splagchnizomai literally means a movement in the bowels (in the sense of the innermost parts). Karl Barth comments, "The term obviously defies adequate translation. What it means is that the suffering and sin and abandonment and peril of these men not merely went to the heart of Jesus but right into His heart, into Himself, so that their whole plight was now His own, and as such He saw and suffered it far more keenly than they did. esplagcnisyh means that He took their misery upon Himself, taking it away from them and making it His own." Jesus did not just sympathetically identify with the pain of others, he actually, empathetically, experienced their pain and sickness as His own. Their pain became his pain. Jesus did not heal them with an act of almighty power. He healed them by taking their sickness from them and into Himself.

Sin is the antithesis of compassion (love). Sin is placing one's own interest before the interests of others. Sin is striving to save your own life and preserving it at all costs; even to the extent of taking another's life to do so. Sin is the law of survival of the fittest; might makes right, power over the powerless.

What is it to be human? Is it a characteristic that is limited only to Homo Sapiens? I would like to quote an excerpt from Carl Sagan's Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, "In the annals of primate ethics, there are some accounts that have the ring of parable. Consider, for example the macaques. Also known as rhesus monkeys, they live in tightly knit cousins' clubs. Since the macaque you save is statistically likely to share many of your genes (assuming you're another macaque), your justified in taking risks to save it, and a fine discrimination of shades of consanguinity is unnecessary. In a laboratory setting, macaques were fed if they were willing to pull a chain and electrically shock an unrelated macaque whose agony was in plain view through a one-way mirror. Otherwise, they starved. After learning the ropes, the monkeys frequently refused to pull the chain; in one experiment only 13% would do so - 87% preferred to go hungry. One macaque went without food for nearly two weeks rather than hurt its fellow. Macaques who had themselves been shocked in previous experiments were even less willing to pull the chain. The relative social status or gender or gender of the macaques had little bearing on their reluctance to hurt others."

Where is the selfish gene of socio-biology in the behavior of these macaques. Who is more human? The researchers or the monkeys? The macaques displayed truly remarkable compassion, empathy and self-sacrifice for the other. To be human is clearly not a characteristic that is defined by, or limited to, someone who posses the genome of Homo Sapiens. To be human is to empathize with the pain of the other, to be motivated by compassion for the other, to love (sacrifice your own self-interest, even you life) for the other.

To be human is to be like the Human One (Jesus) he turned upside down all conventional ideas of God: God is holy, God is all powerful, God's justice is retributive, God is coming in wrath to judge and condemn, God is immutable and self-existent. What Jesus embodied in himself and in the way he related to others is the truth of God: the humane and compassionate God, the God who is love, who will spare no cost to Godself to bring justice (make things right) to poor, suffering humanity, and to all creation - no exceptions! Everyone and everything is included, nothing will be lost. God doesn't exclude anyone. In the death of Jesus on the cross God has experienced godforsaken, damnation - absolute death. There is no longer a place or state of being were God is not - even death. The inexhaustible self-emptying love of God is the non-power that overcomes all powers - including the power of sin (ourselves).

To be free from ourselves is to be made free for others. When we begin to embody the selflessness of those macaques we can then, with some confidence, say we have begun the long journey to becoming truly human.