by Caleb Kim
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16
Sympathy and empathy are similar terms, but are entirely different emotionally and practically. Webster says that sympathy is defined as: “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortunes.” This feeling is not an unloving one, nor is it one that should be frowned upon. Sympathy is hearing a sad story, and feeling bad for someone. It is saying ‘sorry’, when someone has a parent who dies. It can even come alongside someone in love, compassion, and encouragement. We sympathize with those that we do not share history.
Empathy, on the other hand, is shared experience. It is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” A person shows empathy when they show sympathy towards another while sharing the same experiences. Empathy is the nod of a man returning from war to a veteran who returned the year previous. It is the silence between two siblings as they cry over the loss of their parents. It is the “I’m sorry” of a friend who also miscarried their first child. Empathy creates an emotional bond between two people because of past experiences.
Jesus is our “Empathetic High Priest.” God did not feel sorry for us and remain in the heavens while we suffered in our sin. He was sympathetic to our case at one point, unable to “understand” and “experience” our temptation and sin. But God did not remain our “Sympathetic High Priest” interceding from afar. He became our “Empathetic High Priest” and came to earth experiencing our temptation and weakness. Weak and feeble; hungry and ignorant; incapacitated and alone.
When God promises that we can “overcome temptation,” he does not give empty promises from the clouds. He gives concrete promises through blood, sweat, and tears. We have an empathetic Savior who knows our needs. Jesus knows how we are tempted, tried, and persecuted. But he also intercedes on our behalf.
God is now able to empathize with all of humanity because he “has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” A man is able to cope with PTSD because of the support of veterans holding his hand; a women can find peace while in labor hearing the encouragement of her mother; and a student can be reassured during finals week because of a friend who took that same class the previous quarter. And we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence," because we have an ‘empathetic’ High Priest. Therefore, “let us hold firmly to the faith we profess” because we have a great empathetic High Priest.