Compassion Online Is Hard to Find

Our online culture often encourages individuals to openly express opinions in hostile ways. But is this the way God wants Christians to communicate?

While browsing the news feed on Facebook or Twitter, or taking a peek at reader comments at the end of a news article, it doesn’t take me long to wonder: Where has all the compassion gone?

Name a headline—the Ebola epidemic; the ISIS incursion in Iraq; the riots in Ferguson, Missouri; the fighting in eastern Ukraine—and it’s easy to find countless posts by Internet users throwing out highly emotional, political, even hostile opinions about who’s to blame, who’s right, and who deserves or doesn’t deserve what’s happening.

While untold numbers of people hash out their opinions online in angry, politicized comments and posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media, it’s easy to forget that, in the end, thousands (indeed, millions) of human beings are suffering under conditions that many of us have only read or heard about.

Right now, all over the world, people are suffering. But too often the comments seem to ignore that human anguish.

Which do you practice more when you’re on the web? Judgment and condemnation? Or mercy and compassion?The disappearance of compassion

Is it possible that the very nature of online posting can encourage this “disappearing act”? Consider that nearly every piece of online content—articles, blogs, pictures, videos, etc.—comes ready-made with the ability to type in your own comment. Social media outlets enable anyone with an account to say whatever he or she pleases to large audiences from the safety of a computer.

Such comment threads, especially following news items, often quickly descend into snarky quips that put people down or point fingers of blame, sometimes to show off one’s own opinions, other times in support of some ideology or political stance.

Just as often, these forums become rhetorical battlegrounds. The weapons of choice: harsh words and often profanity.

But the attitudes behind such exchanges—political adherence, blame, self-righteousness, sarcasm, anger, etc.—typically don’t include compassion and genuine understanding.

All too often, the ease with which anyone can throw his or her opinion out into the Internet for all to see only encourages a culture of callous disrespect, where people can offend from the safety of pseudo-anonymity while disregarding or despising the opinions of others.

In all this, the perspective that recognizes the real human lives behind the headlines becomes either distorted or is nonexistent.

Compassion is impartial

The teachings of the Bible show us a far better way to live and engage with the events of the times. In addition to the examples of compassionate followers of God’s way, we have Jesus Christ’s example, which demonstrates a compassionate, loving attitude toward all He came in contact with. Jesus had compassion for sinners (John 8:11)—for all the human beings who He knew desperately needed to learn God’s way of life (Matthew 9:36; Luke 7:13; John 11:35).  

Compassion in the Bible is often communicated along with the word mercy, which, in both the original Hebrew and Greek, has to do with action spurred by zealous kindness and pity. We might use the word empathy today, which is the ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes. More importantly, it also implies taking action.

Consider these words: “Judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

Which do you practice more when you’re on the web? Judgment and condemnation? Or mercy and compassion? How can we all improve in the latter?

Here are some ways to improve and monitor our personal online conduct:

  • Think before you post your own opinion on a matter. Are you being driven by love and concern, or by party loyalty or pride? Consider Proverbs 21:23.
    • Will your comment uplift or tear down? (Read Ephesians 4:15-16 and Proverbs 15:1-4.)
    • Will the reader of your comment note that you speak with some knowledge of the subject at hand and concern for the people involved, or are you just reacting based on a superficial, one-sided view? (Consider Proverbs 15:23 and 18:17.)
  • Set aside the screen and pray for those who suffer in the world, especially since the Bible warns that catastrophic events will only increase (Ezekiel 9:4).
  • Study and emulate the example of Jesus Christ, who is our ultimate model of true and just compassion. Read carefully Christ’s example in Matthew 9:36.

Above all, remember that the compassion of God is impartial. Partisan thinking necessarily pits one person or group against another. But Jesus Christ teaches love toward even our enemies, and a compassion that shows no partiality (Matthew 5:44; Ephesians 6:9). True Christianity and partisan politics are inherently incompatible.

About the Author

Life, Hope & Truth Contributor