For a number of years, I had the privilege of serving on the board of trustees of Catholic Health Partners (CHP) a large system of hospitals located in the Midwest. One of CHP's core values is compassion. They state it this way: "Compassion: Our commitment to serve with mercy and tenderness." Over the years of my association with them, I have asked myself the question "What is compassion?" I hope to answer this question in this post.
"In the scriptures, compassion means literally 'to suffer with.' It also means to show sympathy, pity, and mercy for another" (The Guide to the Scriptures, Compassion). The godly attribute of compassion is more than just a deep emotion as it always leads to action. CHP's concept of compassion as articulated in their core values embraces this active component of compassion by coupling tenderness and mercy with service. Service becomes compassion in action.
The Savior taught that we should compassionately welcome home the wayward (Luke 15:20) and give assistance to the suffering stranger (Luke 10:33). But He more than taught--He acted. With compassion, Christ was moved to extend His hand to the needy (Mark 1:41), teach the gospel (Mark 6:34), forgive (Matthew 18:27-33), heal the sick (Matthew 9:35 and 14:14) ,and raise the dead (Luke 7:13). In every case, he not only showed sympathy, pity, tenderness, and mercy but He did something to lift a burden.
An instance from the account of Christ's visit to those gathered at the temple in Bountiful sometime after His resurrection illustrates His compassion. After He had taught His gospel to the people, it was time for Him to return to His Father until the next day. As He looked upon those He had taught, He saw them pleading with their tear-filled eyes for Him to stay a little longer. He "said unto them: Behold, my bowels are filled with compassion towards you. Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy" (3 Nephi 17:6-7, emphasis added). He acted; he served.
Christ's ultimate act of compassion was His Atoning sacrifice for us. Without His sacrifice we were doomed. But He gave of Himself in every way imaginable so that we could have hope. He gave us hope in a resurrection and redemption. Isaiah prophetically saw His life, ministry, and mission and poetically wrote:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. (Isaiah 53:4-9)
Of His Atonement, Alma said,
And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will ctake upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me. (Alma 7:11-13)
With mercy and love, He compassionately give His life so that we might live eternally. He gave us hope.
“Few things are more needed in this tense and confused world than Christian conviction, Christian compassion, and Christian understanding.” (Jeffery R. Holland, “Standing Together for the Cause of Christ,” Ensign, August 2012). Dieter F. Uchtdorf said,
I think of our Lord and Exemplar, Jesus Christ, and His short life among the people of Galilee and Jerusalem. I have tried to imagine Him bustling between meetings or multitasking to get a list of urgent things accomplished. I can’t see it. Instead I see the compassionate and caring Son of God purposefully living each day. When He interacted with those around Him, they felt important and loved. He knew the infinite value of the people He met. He blessed them, ministered to them. He lifted them up, healed them. He gave them the precious gift of His time." (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Of Regrets and Resolutions," Ensign, November 2012)
The charge then becomes for those striving to follow in Christ's footsteps to be moved with compassion as He was moved. “Let our hearts and hands be stretched out in compassion toward others, for everyone is walking his or her own difficult path. As disciples of Jesus Christ, our Master, we are called to support and heal rather than condemn.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Love and Patience,” Ensign, May 2010).