Pastor Phil McCutchen

The Positive Power of Pity

Pity is pretty much a hated word.  When you add one more syllables it becomes, “pitiful.”  Who wants to encourage someone else to be pitiful?  But if showing pity always leads to people being pitiful then why is it a consistent action of God toward humanity?  Why are God and Jesus always showing pity if it removes our motivation to be awesome.  The Hebrew word for pity literally means “bending down in kindness to one who is weaker.”

2 Chronicles 36:15  The LORD, the God of their fathers, had pity on his people. – Isaiah 63:9 In His love and in His pity He redeemed them. Ezekiel 20:16-17 I looked on them with pity and did not destroy them or put an end to them in the desert.

I could give you twenty more passages to prove my point.  Why do even Christians, especially Christians, act as if showing pity to others is the pathway to ruin.  Except for the occasional diatribe on immigration or transgender sensitivity, the general tone of public discourse has become extremely harsh on both the right and the left.  We’re pretty much not giving anybody any slack.  Why is this so?

  • I suspect some of us fear expressions of pity and mercy will cause people to want to stay in a weak dependent state.
  • I suspect some of us fear that expressions of pity and mercy will give another the one up position in a relationship.  
  • I suspect that some of us see mercy as a limited resource and we think we need it all for our own survival.  (This is especially true in intimate relationships.  In marriage especially it can feel important to be the most tired, the most neglected, the most whatever.  Giving up, “most in need of pity,” in a really close relationship like marriage can be absolutely terrifying.  This competition for “most pity” status just illustrates how very powerful we know it is.)
  • I suspect some of us fear expressions of pity and mercy will affirm whatever’s wrong in another person.  (The early Puritans were so consumed with a desire for outward holiness that they couldn’t see that being unmerciful was also unholy.)
  • I suspect some of us don’t want to be identified with enablers who may actually find benefit in creating dependence.  (Enabling doesn’t come from pity but a desire for control)
  • I suspect some of us just don’t have the awareness required to look in another persons eyes and see their fatigue, their sadness, and their pain.
  • I suspect some of are just emotionally lazy and we don’t want to do the heavy lifting of sharing the load of another’s stress.

When Job was suffering he cried out in Job 19:21 “Have pity on me, have pity on me, O ye my friends.”  The Psalms prophesied in Psalm 69:19 of Jesus on the cross and projected Christ’s thoughts as, “I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.”  The sage Solomon wrote in Proverbs 19:17, “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord.”

Did you notice that everything on my suspicion list noted the word fear.  Unmercifulness is based on fear and the Bible says “fear has torment, but perfect love casts out fear.”  So perhaps a selfish concern could motivate us when we realize that the quality of our lives is made less when we don’t spend our lives communicating pity toward others.  Anyway, all that stuff we are afraid of is totally bogus.  Showing pity to people who are down doesn’t make them want to stay down.  When someone tries to understand your stress it’s en-couraging, or in other words it adds to your courage.  When someone ignores your stress or worse down plays it, it is discouraging.


Rick Warren says, “people need a compassionate look, a compassionate word and a compassionate touch.”  Of course most of us are going to be required to have a tough conversation this week, where we need to let them know that their performance wasn’t up to standards, but I’ll bet that conversation will go much better if you have previously shown them that you are a person who is excellent at exercising the positive power of pity.