Wednesday, January 17, 2007


What is pity? My Webster's Tenth Collegiate says, "1.a. a sympathetic sorrow for one suffering, distressed, or unhappy b. capacity to feel pity." Webster's 1828 dictionary, however, has the following:

[begin quote]
1. The feeling of suffering of one person, excited by the distresses of another; sympathy with the grief or misery of another; compassion or fellow-suffering.

He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth to the Lord. Prov. 19:17.

In Scripture however, the word pity usually includes compassion accompanied with some act of charity or benevolence, and not simply a fellow feeling of distress.
[end quote]

I like my Wesbter's 1828 dictionary; it shows how some words have changed, and certainly some attitudes have changed.

What interests me about both of these definitions is the lack of any implication of superiority on the part of the one doing the pitying. You see, I have heard many times the phrase, "I don't want your pity," or "I don't want your charity." Such a person probably says that because he thinks pity automatically implies the superiority of the one doing the pitying over the one being pitied. And perhaps pity is often given in such a proud manner. We say of such a person who does not want pity, often, that he is proud. There are, perhaps, one or two good kinds of pride, but the vast majority of them are bad. I submit that this sort of pride is bad. It's terrible theology. Would we say the same thing to Christ? Could you imagine a genuine believer going up to God and saying, "I don't want your pity (or charity)?" It's unthinkable. Such a person would be giving very ample evidence that he was not a believer. So if such behavior is not acceptable towards God, why would it be acceptable towards a fellow human being, who can only give peanuts compared with what God can give? The analogy is pretty amusing when you think about it. It would be like a person saying, "Yes, I will accept this gorgeous lake house worth $5 million, but not the carrot peeler."

It is true that a certain kind of pity is not very helpful. A self-pity which wallows in misery and does not look up to the cross shows a lack of faith, much like in the Interpreter's house in Pilgrim's Progress where the fellow is raking about in the muck for some treasure, and cannot see the golden crown offered to him by the angel. And yet, another kind of self-pity is helpful: the kind that sees how miserable we are apart from God and accepts the gift of grace He so bountifully gives.

I like getting pity from others; life in this world is hard, and though I have not seen anything like the hardships some have had, mine are already significant: enough to break the spirit of a man who doesn't have God to lift him up. So the pity from others, a proper sort of pity, is comforting to me. I think it is right to accept such pity from others. And, lest you think I boast, if it is right to accept pity, then it is only by the grace of God that I do so. Praise be to God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit for working together for my salvation, both in the justification and the sanctification.

In Christ.

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At 2/08/2007 07:36:00 PM , Blogger Lisa of Longbourn said...

"Do not scorn pity that is the gift of a gentle heart, Eowyn!"

“He looked at her, and being a man whom pity deeply stirred, it seemed to him that her loveliness amid her grief would pierce his heart. And she looked at him and saw the grave tenderness in his eyes, and yet knew, for she was bred among men of war, that here was one whom no Rider of the Mark would outmatch in battle.”

“Pity? It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so: with Pity… Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

Not very biblical, but Tolkien did seem to attach pity and mercy and tenderness - the impulse to action. The Bible, I believe, frequently equates pity and mercy. I think our problem is that we hear "pity" and think "pitiful," which is not quite the same.

Good post. I love word studies, and old dictionaries!
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn


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