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What Is Compassion?
3. What is the meaning of the Hebrew verb rendered “show mercy” or “have pity”?
3 In the Bible, there is a close relationship between compassion and mercy. A number of Hebrew and Greek words convey the sense of tender compassion. Consider, for example, the Hebrew verb ra·chamʹ, which is often rendered “show mercy” or “have pity.” One reference work explains that the verb ra·chamʹ “expresses a deep and tender feeling of compassion, such as is aroused by the sight of weakness or suffering in those that are dear to us or need our help.” This Hebrew term, which Jehovah applies to himself, is related to the word for “womb” and can be described as “motherly compassion.”*—Exodus 33:19; Jeremiah 33:26.
4, 5. How does the Bible use the feelings that a mother has for her baby to teach us about Jehovah’s compassion?
4 The Bible uses the feelings that a mother has for her baby to teach us about the meaning of Jehovah’s compassion. At Isaiah 49:15, we read: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion [ra·chamʹ] on the son of her womb? Yes, they may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (The Amplified Bible) That touching description underscores the depth of Jehovah’s compassion for his people. ...
The tender compassion that Jehovah has for his servants is unfailing. It is immeasurably stronger than the most tender natural feeling that we can imagine—the compassion that a mother normally feels for her infant child. Little wonder that one commentator said of Isaiah 49:15: “This is one of the strongest, if not the strongest expression of God’s love in the Old Testament.”
6. Many imperfect humans have viewed tender compassion in what way, but of what does Jehovah assure us?
6 Is tender compassion a sign of weakness? Many imperfect humans have held that view. For instance, the Roman philosopher Seneca, who was a contemporary of Jesus and a leading intellectual figure in Rome, taught that “pity is a weakness of the mind.” Seneca was an advocate of Stoicism, a philosophy stressing calmness that is devoid of feeling. A wise person may help those in distress, said Seneca, but he must not allow himself to feel pity, for such a feeling would deprive him of serenity. That self-centered view of life allowed no room for heartfelt compassion. But that is not at all what Jehovah is like! In his Word, Jehovah assures us that he “is very tender in affection and compassionate.” (James 5:11, footnote) As we will see, compassion is not a weakness but a strong, vital quality.
He [Seneca] was a tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero.