One of my friends is getting divorced. I heard this from one of our mutual friends. His wife left him and it has been weeks since he has seen his newborn baby.
I had heard a few months ago that he got caught sending some inappropriate text messages to someone of the opposite sex. I was discussing the news of his divorce with some friends. Someone in the group brought up his adulterous texts, and followed it up with, “You can’t have sympathy for someone who does that.”
On an objective level, this guy certainly doesn’t deserve anyone’s sympathy.
One of my friend’s called me last night. She had been studying the Psalms at her small group. “How did that go?” I asked.
“I’m beginning to think David is a real asshole,” she blurted out. I laughed. She continued, “I mean, usually there is a problem with me when I read the bible. So. It is probably me. But still. Why does he presume to be so righteous, so indignant towards his enemies, when he did what he did with Bathsheba?”
I won’t fault either of my friends simply because their first impulse was to not be sympathetic towards adulterers. In fact, if anyone pretended to be totally unaffected by sensational details about sexual indiscretion, I wouldn’t trust them.
We sometimes over-estimate our ability as humans to create sympathy for others out of nothing. This probably cheapens sympathy on a universal level. I could have dug in my heels with both these friends and challenged them: Who are you to say these things? You have sinned in your hearts, just like these people!
I just didn’t think to do that, because in the first instance I was too sad for our other friend who was losing his family. And in the second instance, I couldn’t snap because I can’t really defend David. He made some pretty scummy moves. Nonetheless, I couldn’t shake the sense that I have frequently made appeals to God to show me favor despite glaring sinfulness on my part. When you think about it, this posture is pretty absurd. There isn’t really an apologetic maneuver to ease the tension of the inherent silliness of a sinner praying to God for favor.
It is silly that God would show favor to sinners. It is absurd to be sorry for someone who squandered away their own marriage. It is ridiculous to pay the laborer who only worked the last hour of the day the same wages you paid to the worker who showed up at 8am. It is inconceivable to quiet your conscience because of someone else’s punishment on your behalf.
But it is all true. It isn’t necessary to cheapen grace – undeserving sympathy – by demanding it from everyone all the time. Of course our impulse as sinful, self-righteous people won’t be to pour out love for those who screw their lives up. But that is Christ’s impulse and promise.
So when you find yourself in the seat of the adulterer, when you haven’t seen your baby girl in weeks, Christ’s promise is as true for you as it’s ever been. Whether or not your friends are quick to offer sympathy, Christ has already poured out his grace on your behalf.