"But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:13 NASB).

Empathy for Unbelievers

This verse made me pause in my daily readings. In fact, the whole chapter made me stop and think firstly about the incredible act of reconciliation undertaken by our Lord, but then secondly about our "old lives". The Scriptures are clear, no one is born a Christian. We were all "formerly far off" and made personal decisions to accept God's gift of mercy and forgiveness (Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9).  

As Christians, then, we can empathise with where the unbeliever is positionally ("far off") because we, too, have been there ("formerly"). I had been thinking and writing about empathy already, and was challenged by this section of Scripture. Not only should these truths cause me to worship and glorify God, but my knowledge and experience of the unbeliever's position before God should lead me to be deeply concerned about the souls of the people around me. We can all identify with our unbelieving friends, families, neighbours and colleagues.  

As born-again believers, we have experienced a complete and utter change in our lives. One that has taken us from darkness into God’s marvellous light, from separation from God to nearness and the joy of knowing Him. As such, many of us can empathise with unbelievers emotionally as well as positionally, for example, having had firsthand experience of the hopelessness and uncertainty of a life without Christ (Ephesians 2:12).   

I am blessed to have been brought up in a household where my parents were Christians, and I became a Christian myself at a young age. I haven't personally experienced an adult life, with its trials and difficulties, without Jesus Christ as my Saviour. However, there have sadly been times in my Christian walk where I have been far from Christ in my spiritual interest and development, and I have ultimately found this to be an unhappy place. I imagine this is but a small taste of the unbeliever's condition, searching for fulfilment and happiness in places other than God - and finding none.  

We women tend to be more attuned to our emotions and empathy than our male counterparts. We may take more note of difficulties and emotions that those around us are experiencing, for example, a bereavement or family issue that is causing deep concern and distress in an unbelieving friend's life. I can empathise with this friend in her sorrow but, as a Christian, can also empathise with her position before God and appreciate the transformation in her life He can bring about. As well as showing the practical love of Christ, perhaps in a timely and gentle way I will be able to present the gospel to her.

Let us put to good use our emotional and empathetic capacities. We can combine them with the command our Lord Jesus Christ gave us - to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19).

I can point this friend in the direction of Christ, the One who is able to ultimately and totally empathise with her. He is the One who took on humanity and endured suffering and pain in His life and in His death, fully equipping Him to be both her Saviour and her Great High Priest - One who can bring her forgiveness and then, knowing her every thought and feeling, will intercede before the throne of God for her.

"Facing a task unfinished

That drives us to our knees

A need that, undiminished

Rebukes our slothful ease

We, who rejoice to know Thee

Renew before Thy throne

The solemn pledge we owe Thee

To go and make Thee known"

 – Frank Houghton/Keith and Kristyn Getty