25 January 2006

When "compassion" is Satanic

I take great encouragement from the apostles. What a bunch of goofs. What stunningly thickheaded slow-learners, yet all (metaphorically) wearing "I'm With Stupid" t-shirts.

In Matthew 16, Jesus asks them who people say He is, then after their response He points the finger and asks "But you -- who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:15, emphatic humeis). Peter, in one of his brief, shining moments, gives the right answer, and Jesus says he could only know this by divine revelation. As we see Peter in the Gospels, this is almost a truism.

Then Jesus tells them exactly what is going to happen to Him. Does He leave out any essential? Not really. And yet, when it all eventually happens just as predicted, they're still utterly thunderstruck. Had they the chance, I can almost hear them choking out, "But... but why didn't You tell us?" What knotheads. Ahh, my kind of guys. I'd have fit right in without a ripple. (Well, except for speaking Greek with a California accent.)

But as I recently re-read this passage, what struck me is Peter's response to Jesus' dark announcement. Peter had confessed the wonderful truth about Jesus, and had received Jesus' affirmation. It was stacking up as a great day for the Rockinator.

But what does Peter do with this new information about Him whom he'd just crowned the Christ, the Son of the living God? He rebukes Him! He takes Jesus to task, chews Him out, tries to set Jesus straight. (Yes, that was as weird to write as it is to read.)

But note how Peter rebukes Jesus. The Greek hileos soi, kurie is hard to capture. Probably the best way to render it is to paraphrase along the lines of the ESV's footnote: "May God be merciful to you, Lord!"

Clearly, Peter is appalled to his very soul at the idea. It horrifies him. I wouldn't charge him with great self-interest or any other such base motivation. Peter clearly loved Jesus, by his best lights, and the idea of Him being treated in this way simply sickens Peter to his very soul. Can we blame Him? In his sandals, would we really have sighed, shrugged, nodded piously and said, "Yes, well, that is what some prophecies seem to suggest..."?

Yet Jesus does blame him. In fact, He scorchingly blames him. "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man" (Matthew 16:23 ESV). So much for Peter's good day.

But why does Jesus call Peter "Satan"? Wasn't Peter motivated by tender, compassionate concern for Jesus? I would not assume otherwise. Jesus does not say otherwise. He does not fault Peter's feelings, so much as Peter's thoughts. The HCSB version has it, "you're not thinking about God's concerns." "Not thinking" renders ou phroneis, pointing to a mindset, a mental framework or attitude. The concern does not come from God's perspective.

How is that like Satan? My mind goes back to Satan's first appearance, where we see him as Man's Best Friend. Isn't that how he presents himself? First, he can't believe that God really roped off all the trees of the garden. "Did God actually say?" he begins. He hates to see the woman so deprived, so repressed.

Then when Eve misquotes God to Satan, he immediately moves to quiet her fears. She should not deny herself such a boon! The fruit she wants is the fruit she needs, and God has no good reason for keeping it from her! God have mercy on you Eve, take the fruit and realize your full selfhood, your full potential!

And so he had worked in Peter's thoughts, imperceptibly, maneuvering this good impulse and that good impulse (unshored from God's perspective) until what came out of Peter's mouth was exactly what Satan wanted him to say. Peter doubtless felt a sort of compassion; but that compassion was Satanic. It did not start from God's starting point in rigorously analytical and self-critical thinking, and it did not stay there.

Compassion is a wonderful, godly human emotion -- or can be, as it is informed and directed in line with the Word. But if Peter shows us nothing else, he shows us that compassion can go wrong. What are some specific ways?

Given the baleful, bloody anniversary we've just passed in America, I think of abortion. Pro-aborts present their position as a compassionate position, in fact as the compassionate position. Those who oppose abortion rights (as they put it) have no compassion for women in crisis. Of course, we have a ready response, and can point out that we have compassion on both the mother and the child.

But what of the "hard cases"? What of rape and incest? Here is where I've heard many Christians' "compassion" overrule their Biblical thinking.

Now look, let me be plain. I think the utmost of compassion is completely appropriate for victims of these awful crimes. I think such women should be given every kind of help, encouragement, and support that can be afforded them.

I just don't think it is compassionate to turn a victim into a victimizer.

In such cases, there are two victims: the mother, and her child. Neither one should be punished for being a victim. Both deserve compassion and support. I just can see no Biblical warrant for encouraging a woman to victimize her child, to contract his or her killing, and calling that "compassion."

"Ah," many will say. "That's a very emotional issue." Yes, it really is. As was Jesus' prediction of His impending violent death. That was a very emotional issue for Peter. Peter let his emotions rule his thinking, and that took his thinking in a Satanic direction.

Will we learn nothing from Peter?

Perhaps you can think of other contemporary issues where Satanic values masquerade under a guise of compassion. Homosexuality leaps to mind. It sounds like the very distillation of compassion to tell such tortured souls that they should give up the struggle, accept their passions, and embrace them. But this is the compassion of Hell. This is the compassion that ignores the Cross, with its equally great threats of judgment, and promises of redemption, deliverance, and freedom. To tell souls struggling with any vile passions, whether they draw one towards homosexuality, adultery, theft, or murder, that they have no hope for deliverance, that their only hope is to redefine and then embrace sin, is no compassion at all.

But my last thoughts here turn to another Satanic form of compassion: the "compassion" we turn to our own sins.

We can read glibly of all the particulars above, if we've never waged those specific battles. It's easy for one who's never had the slightest homosexual urge to sermonize glibly on the topic; and so identically with all the others mentioned.

But what of your bad tongue? What of my tendency for faithless despair? What of her arrogant disrespect for her husband? What of his callous, selfish disregard for his wife, or distant unconcern for his children?

Oh, those are different, aren't they? Those are our darling sins. We have compassion on ourselves, compassion on our pet-sins. We create a force-field of rationalizations around them. They're different, because we're different, and our situation is different. Surely they can't be meant for the Cross! Mortify those sins? Put them to a screaming, howling death? Fight and fight, bloodily and incessantly and unsparingly, until they cease struggling and breathing, and have been replaced by God-honoring attitudes and behaviors? God have mercy on us, this can never be!

Sound familiar?

Satanic compassion. God grant we all learn from Peter.

-- Dan Phillips (graphically deprived, but oh, I have ideas....)


Mickey Sheu said...

Would you guys stop posting while I'm finishing up my "various good links" post so I can get them up? *laughs* Thanks for another excellent good post. It's included in the linkage.

Tom Gee said...

Marvelous post. What a great example of moving from Scripture to application! And a good reminder!


DJP said...

Thanks for the gracious welcome, both of you.

Jim said...

Excellent application! Good level headed approach to the sticky issues of today. Man, God's Word is always relevant to our needs and problems.


Neil said...

Very good and appropriate for me. Thank you!

Glenn said...

Great post.

The concept of "Satanic compassion" is something I kinda knew fleeting somewhere around my mind like an allusive snitch but was never able to get a grip on it ... until now.


Gordon said...

The less we love our Savior, the more apt we are to demonstrate "Satanic" compassion.

Gryphonette said...

Unnervingly convicting post! =8^o

Kay said...

*still trying to think of an nick for djp without mixing him up with other Daniels*

Nope, I'm still stumped. It's like, you're too ordinary.
But you've got some good stuff going on under the bonnet, there. Maybe you could be Clark Kent?

DJP said...

Well, Libbie, I'm okay with giving it some time. My now-10yo son Josiah was "Boy Phillips" for the first few days, because he was just a smidge earlier than expected, and we (mostly I) were going right down to the wire in picking. The nice lady at the hospital gave me until Friday morning, and said that after that I'd have to talk to the County.

So every time I'd coochie-coo my newest little light-of-my-life, my wife would say in a baby-voice, "What's my name, Daddy?"

"I'm working on it! I'm working on it!"

Kay said...

Boy Phillips? Like Boy Wonder? It could work...

Doug said...

Well, it's better than "Boy George!"

Great post. Very convicting.

Daniel Portela said...

"And so he had worked in Peter's thoughts, imperceptibly, maneuvering this good impulse and that good impulse (unshored from God's perspective) until what came out of Peter's mouth was exactly what Satan wanted him to say." An idea for a future post would be on how exactly Satan does these things. Does he have some control or direct influence over a saved person's thoughts or actions? Was Peter saved at the time this occured, giving Satan room to work?

Hopeful for more,

Daniel Portela

DJP said...

Daniel, that is a terrific idea. And I have done some thinking and study (and preaching) on that one. Thanks for it, and keep an eye open.

étrangère said...

Thanks for this post. I decided that was a post worth reading properly rather than 'net reading'. I've thought before about true compassion wrt others' sin but not my own and how I hedge them round... how often is that true.

IB Dubbya said...

Man, a true Preacher! And man, A TRULY convicting blog-sermon if ever I read one...

...because I'm in a situation (marital in nature) where this is a real concern for me...


DJP said...

This is grossly overdue, but thanks so much for the encouragement everyone, it means a lot to me. Glory to God!

(An debuting new, uh, icon-picture-thingie.)