Getting the Bible’s big picture — compassion

Growing up, I heard one basic message in church — get saved, get others saved and live right. Most of the emphasis in my Southern Baptist churches was on the first two, and when it turned to the living right part it was generally about personal morality — don’t smoke, don’t drink and don’t have sex until marriage.

I’m thankful to those churches for leading me to a faith walk with God through Christ. I’m thankful to those churches for leading me to care enough for others that I would share my faith. And I’m thankful to those churches for giving me those solid moral moorings that helped me stay out of trouble, not that I did it perfectly.

While affirming all of that, I must say with equal honesty that I didn’t latch onto a deep concern for the marginalized of this world. It may have been taught, but the primary bent was toward the three emphases noted above. We heard less about compassion for the world than passion for reaching the world — helping those other people who were not good church folk like us to become church folk like us.

As I read the Bible now, I get a growing sense of just how much I missed earlier. God cares deeply, very deeply for the people who are not like me — the hurting. It’s all over the book.

The big picture of Scripture is about God and humanity reconnecting. You can say that sin is what has created the disconnect. But what sin? The sin that really seems to have gotten God’s attention is in relation to the injustices toward the marginalized of this world — the people who do not have power, wealth or other entrees to privilege.

That is the sin we should be battling most, but in my tradition that often has not been the case. Looking beyond my roots, however, I am encouraged that Baptists have been concerned for justice and compassion — Martin Luther King Jr. and T. B. Maston come quickly to mind.

So it was with interest today that I encountered an article titled “God Commands Compassion, Not Evangelism,” by Greg Garrett. I wish he had not pitted compassion against evangelism because I believe evangelism done right is motivated by compassion, but Garrett has some great points to make. Here’s one:

“The larger message of the Bible is about participating in the reality that God wants to bring into being to replace the sinful mess we have made, and a large part of that participation is about reaching out to those who are in need. God’s advocacy for the downtrodden against the powerful is clear throughout the Hebrew Testament. A wonderful way to read the Old Testament’s sections on the patriarchs, the subjection of their ancestors in Egypt, and their deliverance in Palestine is through the lens of God’s choice of the poor, the outcast, and the unexpected to be the recipients of His love and grace. Youngest children (not the oldest sons, expected to inherit everything), women (of no social value), and exiles (not even part of a society) are chosen by God for special roles.”

If we can just get this thing about compassion for the hurting, then we can get a lot right about following the God revealed in Scripture. I’m reminded that there is faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.

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