Pain and Compassion

by Rev. Sterling Durgy

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A "contemporary" version of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, an un-Biblical story (compare this version to the parable actually told by Jesus in Luke 15:11-32):

A man had two sons. The younger son went to his father to request his inheritance, which the father granted. The son then went to a far country where he squandered his money on partying, immorality, and gambling. When he had spent all of his money, he became so hungry that he began to envy what the pigs ate. So he began writing his father for money. When the father had sent all of his funds and the elder son's inheritance, and had sold the farm to provide for the younger son, and had himself become destitute, the younger son wrote to an uncle who, he was sure, would feel that it was inhumane not to send support to the younger son.

Pain serves a very important biological function. It tells an organism that something is wrong so that the organism can take action to avoid harm. Without pain, a hand stays too close to fire and is burned. Without pain, a person continues to walk on sharp rocks so that the flesh of the feet is cut and bleeding. Without pain, a person might make an injury worse and prevent healing. Lepers destroy their extremities not because the disease eats them away, but because the disease robs them of a sense of touch and pain. Lepers have no way to tell when they are hurting themselves.

Some pain can be harmful. Pain can last beyond the initial cause of the pain. People bring pain upon themselves to try to punish themselves for their shortcomings (real or imagined). Far too many people think that the way to happiness is to inflict pain upon others. Pain is an enemy when it is not serving the purpose for which it exists: to show us that we are in danger. When pain does serve this role, it is a friend.

When we get ourselves in trouble because we are not acting the way we should, the discomfort indicates to us that we need to make some changes. To remove that discomfort without change is to remove the stimulus for change.

Not all pain in this world comes from sin; much does not. Spiritual people as well as sinful people get sick, have money and job problems, are victims of crime and natural disaster, and can experience problems in their personal relationships. Even when people sin, it is the love and concern of the Christian community that invites them to return. But care must be taken not to remove the incentive to change. There must be a distinction between compassion for sinners and making sinners comfortable in their sin. When pain does not come as a result of sin, the model of behavior is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). When it does, the model is the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

Children should always be raised to face the consequences of their actions. That doesn't mean that there aren't times when parents need to intervene so that their children are not overwhelmed. It does mean that even if the full force is thwarted, the child should still be brought face-to-face with the consequences of his or her actions. Over-protective parents, like an over-protective society, remove the incentive for people to deal with the real world, real people, and the real God.

In Jesus' parable, unlike the "contemporary" version above, the son came home. And when the Prodigal Son came home to beg for mercy he found his father already waiting. His father ran out to greet him and celebrated his return with great joy. All the time the son had been gone, his fathers' love had been with him, though his father had not. That love, the example of the father's life, and the father's willingness to let his son experience the consequences of his son's choices, brought the son home.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume I, Part 5, July 1993.

Updated December 1995. Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.

The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.

Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.