Small Group Tools
Contemporary Comments 2016
Texts: Psalm 119:65–72; Job 2:11–13; Job 4:1–21; Romans 3:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 3:19; Hebrews12:5; Matthew 7:1
A few weeks ago a study was released by Michigan State University that ranked nations by the empathy of their people. Scientists collected data from over 100,000 adults in 63 different countries. The most empathetic country in the world is Ecuador and the least empathetic country is Lithuania.1
After Ecuador, the other nine countries that are the most empathetic, in order, are Saudi Arabia, Peru, Denmark, United Arab Emirates, Korea, the United States, Taiwan, Costa Rica, and Kuwait. The study “looks at links between empathetic feelings and various personality traits and ‘prosocial’ behaviors, such as volunteering and charitable donations.”
Some of the other countries that ranked low in total empathy scores include Venezuela, Estonia, Poland, and Bulgaria. Researchers defined empathy as the ability to be “psychologically in tune with others’ feelings and perspectives.” The study admits its limitations and calls it a snapshot of what empathy looks like right now. It hopes to spur deeper research into how empathy is expressed in different cultures.
If Job’s friends had completed an empathy survey, they would certainly have ranked near the bottom. In this week’s Sabbath school lesson, we begin to peer into the dialogue between suffering Job and his three friends. Though the three men respectfully sit in silence for a week as their friend writhes in anguish, they quickly show their true colors by giving Job theoretical explanations for his predicament.
What Job needed was the kindness of a listening ear and a caring heart. Empathy attempts to walk in someone else’s shoes and to feel what they feel. Someone once said, “Everyone hears what you say. Friends listen to what you say. Best friends listen to what you don’t say.” Perhaps we are too quick to describe Job’s visitors as friends!
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar lacked the ability to tune into the hurting man. They needed to learn to be more compassionate. The word compassion comes close to the meaning of empathy. Compassion not only means to enter into the feelings of pain that another may be experiencing, but it also seeks to alleviate that hurt. This is exactly what Eliphaz, the first of Job’s friends who speaks up, fails to do in chapter 2.
You might find it interesting that the Sabbath school lesson brings out that the book of Job was written thousands of years ago “in a desert that is most likely located in today’s Saudi Arabia” (see Sunday’s lesson). The University of Michigan’s empathy study actually rates Saudi Arabia as the second most empathic country in the world. Apparently things have changed since the three unfeeling friends of Job came to give him advice. Perhaps it is a reminder that we need to change and become more compassionate and less pontifical toward the suffering.
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