Empathy for Victims

For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalm 71)

We live in a time when our ability to empathize with "victims" comes easily, almost naturally. We don't question this. We think it has always been this way. But doing so discounts two millennia of the leavening effect of the Sermon on the Mount.

In a era where people were at fault for their station in life, in other words, when the question, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?", made perfect sense, there probably would not have been something like a Hope Mission.

Identification with, and empathy for, "the victim", is a remarkable thing. And as far as I can tell, biblical revelation is responsible for this. The cross is the cause.

Reading successively through the scriptures, we are slowly but progressively awakened to the suffering of the victim, where finally, everything culminates in Jesus, the innocent victim.

The cross exposes our victimizing ways. Our scapegoating method of making peace through having, "one man die for the people than having the whole nation destroyed."

Now that Christ has exposed this mechanism as an idolatrous lie, we are left with only two options to deal with violence. The first is more violence. The supposed redemptive or sacred or "good" violence, that sets things in order through visiting violence upon violent ones. This only creates victims out of victimizers. And of course, the same old mechanism is at work here. So really, this option is an impossibility. It has been tried ad nauseam and it always leads to more violence–finally apocalyptic violence.

The other option is almost as impossible. It is the renouncing of all violence and vengeance. Our model here is Jesus and all those over these millennia, who in the face of violence, have imitated him.

They were able to imitate Jesus in non-violence because they discovered that they had taken part in his lynching. But then, in some way, perhaps in many different ways over time, they were visited by his forgiving presence. And they were cut to the heart; and the nearly impossible became possible.

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