On Pity

What is the place of the emotions in seeking to understand ourselves, and more importantly, in seeking to know God?

I suspect that your first reaction is that the emotions must have a role to play, and probably, an important role. You might secretely even think that it’s appalling to be asking the question.

reaching handStrangely though, if I’d asked the question 150 years ago perhaps the gut reaction of many people would have been different. On a philosophical level at least, reason was king, and all true knowledge would be attained through reason. Emotions only acted to cloud judgement and therefore were impediments to truth.

Hmm, it wasn’t my intention to head down this track at all…
I’m interested at the moment in Pity.

Are you for or against?

Most people I have spoken to recently feel vaguely uneasy about the propriety of pitying others.

I think the root of our discomfort stems from the implicit judgement that lies behind an act of pity. Pitying is implicitly a statement that I am better than you in some respect. I judge you, or your situation to be worse, and I feel something about this.

Our nominal cultural egalitarianism has taught us to say, “everyone is equal”, or more basically, “I’m ok, and you’re ok”. The only thing that’s not ok is judging someone to be somehow inferior to yourself.

There are a number of these emotion-actions that involve implicit judgement. Forgiveness is another. The act of forgiveness implies the judgement by the aggrieved party that the other is wrong. And the acceptance of forgiveness requires the acceptance of this judgement by the person in the wrong.

For the Christian, the acceptance of God’s forgiveness requires the agreement with God that his judgement against us is correct. There is no forgiveness without the forgiver’s act of judgement. There is no reconciliation without the forgiven’s assent to the verdict.

In the same way, there is no pity without judgement. We feel squeamish about pity, yet we would not like to be in the power of a Pitiless One. It is pity that extends help and healing to us when we are broken.

It is foolishness to deny in the name of egalitarianism that we or any other can be in dire situations. It’s the same pride disguised as egalitarianism which makes us turn aside the pitying mercy of God.

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