ADVERTISING
 
Sunday, September 23   Sign in or Register
 
Evangelical Focus
 

 
ADVERTISING
 
 
FOLLOW US ON
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google +
  • Instagram
  • Soundcloud
 

Newsletter
Newsletter, sign up to receive all our News by email.
 

POLL
Faith and political views
In my church...




SEE MORE POLLS
 

 
TOP 10 MOST VIEWED



Calum Samuelson
 

Empathy in the information age

We should recognise that breadth of awareness is not evidence of the depth of our engagement.

JUBILEE CENTRE AUTHOR Calum Samuelson 10 APRIL 2017 17:08 h GMT+1
wet, drops, Photo: Sandeep Swarnkar (Unsplash, CC)

The idea of studying with a newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other still holds weight as a paradigm for Christian engagement with culture, but is increasingly becoming outdated practically. Long gone are the days when one could expect to be up to date by simply reading the Sunday paper. The fact is that news is now distributed by the hour, with new updates only a click away. In addition to the immediacy of news, there is an overwhelming variety of issues to be concerned about… prison violence in Brazil, the murder of Kim Jong-nam, and the imminent extinction of the vaquita porpoise.



The fact is that social media and all its online derivatives represent a leap in communications technology not seen since the invention of the printing press.[1] The increasing immediacy and variety of news raises important questions for Christians: How much time should we devote to keeping up with current events? How should we respond to events that are genuinely foreign to us (whether geographically, culturally, or ideologically)? How can we be loving, compassionate followers of Christ if we are unaware of the ways that the world around us is hurting? I would like to briefly offer some thoughts about these concerns.



First, we should remember that empathy is absolutely vital for the healthy functioning of families, communities, and societies. The Incarnation of Jesus can be understood as the archetype of empathy[2] and thus necessitates the need for all Christians to enter into the pain of others to some degree. But not all Christians are equally endowed with the capacity to empathise. This is not a bad thing, of course, for we recognise that different gifts are given to different members of the Body for the benefit of the whole. Nonetheless, less-empathetic people may still feel pressured to respond somehow (a comment on Facebook?) to the daily flood of sobering news, and in so doing can actually use the pain of others as a means to an end. The habit of ‘scrolling’ through negative news on social media can even act as a numbing agent for one’s own pain or guilt.[3] While we could debate the correct understanding of ‘empathy’, we cannot discount the incredible way social media is increasingly acting as a vehicle for news. We should think carefully about the implications of this in relation to empathy and compassion.



Jesus was obviously aware of current events[4] and the hurts of the common person. And although he is often remembered for his selfless compassion on the crowds, he also had limits. For instance, we read in several places how Jesus retreated in order to pray and rest. More than just placing limits on the time he gave to the people, Jesus was also selective with how he used his time and energy. This is seen in Mark 1:38, where Jesus says, ‘Let us go somewhere else’, seemingly ignoring those who were seeking him. As Christians, we must strive to understand both how and how often we should act compassionately based upon our giftings, resources, and calling.



Second, we must understand our own giftings in relation to our community and local context. Here, 2 Corinthians 8-9 is instructive. Paul asked both the church in Macedonia and the church in Corinth to help the Christians in Jerusalem via financial gifts. Despite the geographic separation, there was a shared sense of identity that gave context to Paul’s request and thus increased the sense of responsibility. But vitally, Paul emphasises the importance of sincerity and cheerfulness; reluctance and compulsion is probably a sign of the wrong motives.



No matter how hard we try to stay informed about events in the world, we will inevitably be confronted by ‘important’ stories about which we have little or no context. Although perhaps a source of anxiety for some, this can actually be a great opportunity for Christians to respond in humility and demonstrate a willingness to learn. However, this aim will be fruitless if we as Christians are also unaware of, unengaged with, or disinterested in important issues in our local communities, regions, and countries. There is truth to the saying, ‘Charity begins at home’, not least because this is where we have the greatest responsibility to help others directly.



While the stream of news may seem unlimited, our capacity to genuinely engage has clear limits. When seeking to discern ‘how much is too much?’, we should recognise that breadth of awareness is not evidence of the depth of our engagement.



Ultimately, empathy that doesn’t actually lead to some form of compassionate action is unfulfilled and incomplete—benefitting neither involved party—so we should always consider the connection between our awareness and our actions.



Calum Samuelson, MPhil in History of Theology. Works for the Jubilee Centre.



This article first appeared on the Jubilee Centre website and was republished with permission.



 



[1] For a brief history of social media see http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x/full.



[2] Hebrews 4:15.



[3] For an interesting comparison see http://reason.com/blog/2017/03/01/moral-outrage-is-self-serving.



[4] See Luke 13:4 for an interesting example.


 

 


0
COMMENTS

    If you want to comment, or

 



 
 
YOUR ARE AT: - - - Empathy in the information age
 
ADVERTISING
 
 
 
AUDIOS Audios
 
Nominal Christianity, a mission field for the church Nominal Christianity, a mission field for the church

An interview with Lars Dahle, of the Steering Committee of the Lausanne Movement Global Consultation on Nominal Christianity held in Rome.

 
Ruth Valerio: A lifestyle that cares about creation Ruth Valerio: A lifestyle that cares about creation

Are Christians called to make a difference in environmental care? What has creation care to do with "loving our neighbours"? An interview with the Global Advocacy and Influencing Director of Tearfund.

 
Kathy Bryan: Online sex trafficking in the USA Kathy Bryan: Online sex trafficking in the USA

“Prostitution is nobody’s dream,  it’s a very traumatic lifestyle”, says Kathy Bryan, director of the Elevate Academy. She mentors former victims.

 
Christians in politics? Christians in politics?

What is the role of Christians serving in politics? An interview with Auke Minnema, the new General Director of the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM).

 
Michael Ramsden: Communicating the Gospel in today’s societies Michael Ramsden: Communicating the Gospel in today’s societies

RZIM International Director Michael Ramsden responds to questions about the secularisation of Europe, the role of Christians in public leadership and the new ‘culture of victimism’.

 
PICTURES Pictures
 
Sharing Jesus with World Cup fans in Moscow Sharing Jesus with World Cup fans in Moscow

A team of Steiger mission is starting conversations about the gospel in the middst of the football celebration in Russia.

 
Analysing current issues in the light of the Bible Analysing current issues in the light of the Bible

At the 2018 Apologetics Forum in Comarruga (Spain), Michael Ramsden, Pablo Martinez, Ruth Valerio and José de Segovia analysed how society and the Bible approach the issues of personal identity, integrity, sexuality, pop culture, and environmental care.

 
European “Bridges to Inclusion” gathering 2018, in Riga European “Bridges to Inclusion” gathering 2018, in Riga

The network of Christian ministries working for the inclusion of people with disabilities, celebrated its tenth continental meeting in Latvia with the participation of 12 countries.

 

 
VIDEO Video
 
How does romantic love change over time? How does romantic love change over time?

Psychatrist Pablo Martínez uses a metaphor to explain how romantic love evolves.

 
‘Mediterráneo’ ‘Mediterráneo’

“Something will change if you have hunger and thirst for justice”, sings Spanish artist Eva Betoret in a song about the refugee crisis.

 
How the loss of universal values led to a loss of civility How the loss of universal values led to a loss of civility

Author Bruce Little: “We have moved from a sense of responsibility to ‘my personal rights’”.

 
Reaching non-Christian ‘Christians’ Reaching non-Christian ‘Christians’

How can we reach those who call themselves ‘Christians’ but have not experienced a conversion to Christ? Forty missiologists and mission practitioners came together for a Lausanne Movement global consultation in Rome.

 
 
Follow us on Soundcloud
Follow us on YouTube
 
 
WE RECOMMEND
 
PARTNERS
 

 
AEE
EVANGELICAL FOCUS belongs to Areópago Protestante, linked to the Spanish Evangelical Alliance (AEE). AEE is member of the European
Evangelical Alliance and World Evangelical Alliance.
 

Opinions expressed are those of their respective contributors and do not necessarily represent the views of Evangelical Focus.