Compassion: The Defining Characteristic

You know that carnival ride that looks like a giant spinning saucer? The one that spins on an arm that tilts the saucer sideways? The one that, at first glance, looks like a human version of a laundry drier?

It’s the one that you don’t want to ride until someone you’re with (usually a cute guy or girl you’re interested in) decides they want to ride it and want you to ride it with them. So you get in, the eye-patched carnival worker has you stand with your back against the curved wall before he closes that ominous door to the saucer on his way out. The saucer starts spinning faster and faster. The arm starts tilting steeper and steeper. You are waiting to find out what your underwear felt like the other day when you were doing laundry.

But then you realize: “I’m not falling.” Not only are you not moving – you’re actually pinned to the curved wall behind you! You aren’t hurtling toward the other end of the saucer because something is forcing you against the wall. You will survive to live another day. And maybe not have to wash those underwear as soon as you expected.

In Physics, we learn that the reason you stay pinned to the wall is called Centrifugal Force. This “force” pushes an object to the outside of a circular path. What a great Physics teacher will tell you (like the one I had in college) is that Centrifugal Force doesn’t really exist. Centrifugal Force is just a fancy name given to another, very basic, principle of Physics. Centrifugal Force is Acceleration in disguise. As your body travels in the circle, it is inclined to continue in a straight line outward, away from the circular path of the saucer (Tangential Acceleration). The greatest force working on you is your acceleration (caused by the ride) around the circle. But the force of the wall keeping you inward is just as great, keeping you from following the natural path of your acceleration at any point. The ride keeps driving you onward along the orbit; your body wants to fly outward on a straight line and the wall wants to keep you inwards so the carnival doesn’t get sued.

In the case of the saucer, the wall is acting as a force to push you in although you feel like a force is pushing you outward toward the wall.

If you’re still reading, you’re likely asking why you’re getting a Physics lesson from a blog about how much we hate church and how Millennials march onward in preparing for a hostile take-over of Christianity. (If you think that’s our goal – well, okay, you are partly right. But only partly! Keep reading!) This common misconception of physical forces is an analogy for what we do when trying to explain the defining characteristic of Christianity.

Many of you may think that I am talking about faith. Well, “No!” says I! True, faith is central to any belief system – so in the argument I am about to make, faith in Christ and what he did to pay for our salvation is assumed. What I am talking about is the result of true faith, faith that changes the person who holds it.

The characteristic I am comparing to Centrifugal Force is Love. Ah, L’Amour!

Love, the characteristic God personifies (1 John 4). Love, the essence of the greatest commandments “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. AND Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). Love, the motivation God felt strong enough to sacrifice his son for our eternal lives (John 3:16).

Love is real, God feels it, and God commands us to practice it. There it is!! Practice love!

You’re saying, “Hold it – are you saying Love disguises the defining characteristic? It’s not the characteristic itself?” That’s right, I do.

Love is defined many ways in the Greek language. In fact, there are 6 different versions of Love. But in all forms, love is a feeling, an emotion, an idea. It is warm and fuzzy, but it is not tangible. Love by itself cannot be seen by others, cannot be felt. We must physically act, in word or deed, to practice it.

Love is a feeling or decision that can cause action. What is it called when it becomes action?

The answer is Compassion. Compassion is what we get when we turn the feeling of Love into action. Compassion literally means to feel something for someone and to do something about it. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Love is not compassion, but compassion IS Love applied.

Ok, quick equation (more of a proof) to explain why I call Compassion the defining characteristic of Christians.

If God = Love

And Compassion = Love in Action

Then Compassion = God in Action


Since God is love, the application of love is the application of God. To be Compassionate is to apply God actively in our lives. To show compassion is to show God to others. This is why God calls us his ambassadors and priests, his hands and his feet – we act in his stead. We don’t just talk about him to others – we ARE him to others.


This shouldn’t surprise us. It’s just a different way of viewing the matter. Look at those greatest commandments. Love God, love your neighbor (neighbor = all humanity). If you love both then you partner in God’s character. Being compassionate to anyone – in fact, everyone – is showing them God in action. But, do we have to be compassionate to everyone? Christ charges us to serve “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The least of these means the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned. Think about the parable of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan was good because he showed COMPASSION to a beaten man on the side of the road.

Compassion is the essence of Christ’s entire mission. His love was acted out through compassionate miracles, compassionate teaching, and a compassionate sacrifice: enduring a torturous death and separation from God, Love Himself.

My point: If we love God and have experienced a change in our beings because of Christ, we will feel an undeniable and unbearable love for our neighbor. A love this unbearable will manifest itself whether we want it to or not. The love on the inside will overflow to the outside in compassion. We will PRACTICE LOVE.

How does this relate to going rogue? This is what we have been talking about! The Church needs to practice love by showing compassion – and we regrettably see too little of that in and from church institutions. Yet it doesn’t all rest on the shoulders of church businesses! We are the Church!! Imagine if every believer couldn’t help the love they felt for their communities and acted it out? What if we truly loved our neighbors (and enemies!) so much we couldn’t help but pour out compassion on them? If love is at our center then compassion is guaranteed. We would be an entire Body of Love, and our compassion would become what Christianity is known for throughout the world. There was once a day when Christians had a reputation for compassion instead of being judgmental and uncaring. But if each individual Christian took this to heart, maybe it would be our defining characteristic once more.

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