The following I originally published several years ago on the Jews for Jesus blog at http://www.jewsforjesus.org

My father-in-law and I share a love for the television show Joan of Arcadia, which ran on CBS for two seasons in 2003 and 2004. The premise of the show was that a very ordinary girl, Joan, suddenly begins to have conversations with God, who appears to her in different guises: a little girl on the playground, a handsome young man, the lunchlady at Joan’s high school cafeteria, etc. God gives Joan an assortment of strange tasks, many of which exasparate her, but all of which prove to cause Joan to grow spiritually, and to help her family and friends heal from tragedies they have experienced in life. Although it was hated by as many people who loved it, Joan of Arcadia was a show which was unique in dealing each week with spiritual issues which confront many people.

In my favorite episode, Death Be Not Whatever …, the writers of Joan dealt with what C.S. Lewis called “the problem of pain.” In short — the existence of suffering in a world created by a good God. God tells Joan to take on a babysitting job. Joan’s charge, Rocky, turns out to be a young boy who is dying of cystic fibrosis. Although Rocky tries to tell Joan about his imminent demise, she isn’t really listening. It’s only in a conversation with God that she gets an inkling that there is something more going on, as God explains:

“He tried to tell you what it is, but you ignored him. I understand why. You don’t want to look at anyone’s pain. The trouble is, when you try to avoid it, you stop helping, people end up alone.”

Joan does learn to look at others’ pain. In fact, she finally sees the pain that her friend Adam is suffering from due to his mother’s suicide, a pain that has gone unrecognized by anyone else. In seeing it, Joan reaches out to him and gives him comfort.

Jesus was greatly concerned with the suffering of others. In the book of Matthew, we’re told of an incident in which Jesus goes into seclusion after hearing of the murder of John the Baptist. He is followed into the wilderness by crowds of people who want to be near Him, and:

“When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.” Matthew 14:14 NASB

And as well in Mark 1:40-41, Jesus is moved by the pain and suffering of others:

And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.”

It wasn’t just the specific pain of individuals that Jesus looked at and felt compassion towards. Consider the strong compassion regarding the Jewish people that lies behind the following:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!” Luke 13:34 NASB

How does this relate to you and I, as followers of Jesus? For one thing, we’ve been instructed to cultivate this same compassion towards others that Jesus modeled.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart ofcompassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;” Colossians 3:12 NASB

When the writers of Joan of Arcadia attributed to God a statement about being able to look on others’ pain, they followed it with a statement about what happens when we avoid looking at others’s pain.

“The trouble is, when you try to avoid it, you stop helping, people end up alone. “

Here, the fiction of Joan of Arcadia is not far off from the truth. Followers of Jesus are called to a standard of serving others. When we look upon others’ pain, we should not only put on the heart of compassion that Messiah showed us, but we should consider as well the heart of servanthood He displayed.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 NASB

Is there someone near you whose pain you haven’t seen? Maybe it’s time to take a closer look at those you see every day, whose pain has been beneath your radar. Put on that heart of compassion, and seek to serve them. I can’t tell you how to do that; to be honest, looking on other’s pain is something I am praying that God helps me to be better at. I can tell you some ways to serve someone in pain, though: Listen to them. Pray for them and with them. That starts with making yourself available. How will someone in pain know that you see their pain and want to help them unless you step forward?

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