How Can We Help in Time of Loss?

A woman has a miscarriage. A middle-aged man is laid off at work. A family’s house burns. Parents lose a teenage son to suicide. A child is diagnosed with cancer. A surviving spouse must now go on without the other.

Responding to loss

A common response to the suffering of people we know is to do nothing—not because we don’t care, but because we just don’t know what to say or do.

When Job’s friends came after he suffered the triple loss of his children, wealth, and health, they may have meant well but succeeded only in adding to his grief by their ill-chosen words. “Sorry comforters” is what Job called them (Job 16:2).

How can we effectively show concern—especially when we haven’t experienced what others are suffering?

For starters, we can educate ourselves on what is and what is not helpful to say to someone in distress. Here’s an example of such a resource:

How best to help

In marked contrast to Job’s so-called friends, Jonathan was a great encouragement to David during a dark time in his life. Jonathan found his friend and wept with him (1 Samuel 20:31-42; 23:15-16).

Many years later David was again on the run. Barzillai along with others brought bedding and abundant food supplies for David and those with him—“for they said, ‘The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness’” (2 Samuel 17:27-29).

When Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he so appreciated the loyal support of his friend Onesiphorus, who “often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains; but when he was in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me” (2 Timothy 1:16-17).

Many of us know what it’s like to be on the receiving end when friends show up with a hug, a kind word, a listening ear, a prayer, a gift of food—and who even run errands for us and help with household chores.

Knowing the comfort others have been to us in our own time of need, how then can we pass along the kindness the next time we learn of a loss?

With so many hurting people around us, we shouldn’t lack for an opportunity!


Scripture quotations taken from the NASB:

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How Empathetic Are We?

There are at least three ways we can view a fellow human being:

As someone to exploit

Jesus told a story about some thugs who rob a traveler, beat him up, and leave him severely wounded by the roadside.

Who would be so cruel? Apparently, those who are concerned only about themselves and don’t care who gets hurt, as long as they get what they want.

As someone to ignore

Another traveler comes along—a priest. When he sees the victim lying helplessly by the road, he passes on by.

Then comes a Levite. He does exactly as the priest did—he sees but does nothing.

Surely these two religious people would never stoop so low as to rob and beat a stranger. But do they feel anything for the man? Do they help?

They distance themselves from the man’s suffering—both physically and emotionally.

They leave him lying there—bleeding and alone.

As someone to serve

Then comes a third traveler—a Samaritan. Like the priest and Levite, he too sees the poor fellow.

Unlike the priest and Levite, he feels for him.

But he doesn’t just feel sorry for him—he acts immediately.

He dresses the man’s wounds. He takes him to an inn where he can be cared for—and even pays the bill!

And we?

So how do we view others—as people we can use for our own selfish purposes? As problems to ignore because getting involved can be messy, expensive, and time-consuming? Or as souls to serve?

Jesus’ parable graphically illustrates the Second Commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-37).

Jesus told the parable in response to a lawyer’s question, “And who is my neighbor?”

After describing how the priest, Levite, and Samaritan each responded, Jesus asked him, “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?”

“The one who showed mercy toward him,” said the lawyer.

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do the same.’”

Did he?

Will we?

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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB:

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Students of the life of Christ are familiar with the references to His compassion toward the spiritually needy, the physically hungry, the two blind men, the leper, and the widow whose son had just died (Matthew 9:36-38; 14:13-14; 15:32-38; 20:30-34; Mark 1:40-41; Luke 7:12-17).

In addition, we have three of Jesus’ parables in which compassion plays a key role.

When the deeply indebted servant pled with his master for mercy, “the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:21-35). When the Samaritan saw the wounded traveler, “he felt compassion . . .” (Luke 10:25-37). As the Prodigal returned home, “his father saw him and felt compassion . . .” (Luke 15:1-2, 11-32).

The divine compassion

In each story the compassionate character represents God or Christ. This is certainly consistent with what we know of the Father and His Son.

The expression of compassion

In each case the divine compassion does not remain a feeling but is expressed in loving action. The master cancels the debt. The Samaritan provides abundant help. The father runs and embraces his son and joyfully celebrates his return.

The opposite of compassion

In each case the compassion expressed in these parables stands in stark contrast to the lack of compassion evident in other characters in these stories. The forgiven servant shows no mercy to a fellow slave who owes him. The priest and Levite ignore the plight of the wounded traveler. The elder brother is angered by the grace shown to his wayward brother.

So what are we to learn?

While it’s wonderful to be on the receiving end of Christ’s compassion (and aren’t we all?), isn’t it also wonderful when we learn to feel compassion toward others and act accordingly?

In doing so we become “imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1).


Scripture quotations taken from the NASB:

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Going Out of Our Way

Admirable actions

The Good Samaritan did something the priest and Levite were unwilling to do. He went way out of his way, expending time, effort, and money to aid the wounded traveler. He was willing to be seriously inconvenienced (Luke 10:25-37).

The father of the Prodigal didn’t wait for his son to come to him—he ran to meet him! He threw a big party in his joy over his son’s return. The elder brother was anything but happy about his father’s giving his younger brother such a lavish homecoming (Luke 15:11-32).

The master of the servant who owed him millions of dollars cancelled the entire debt. He didn’t have to do this—he chose to. The forgiven servant, however, was not willing to pass on the grace he had received. He insisted that a fellow servant pay him what he owed, turning a deaf ear to his pleas for mercy, which echoed his own pitiful pleading when he himself had begged his master to be patient with him (Matthew 18:21-35).

Marked contrasts

The priest and Levite, the elder brother, and the unforgiving servant are cold and cruelly uncaring. In contrast, the Good Samaritan, the welcoming father, and the merciful master show warmth, love, and grace.

Admirable attitude

One word all three parables have in common is compassion (Matthew 18:27; Luke 10:33; 15:20). Compassion is what moved the master to forgive his servant, the Samaritan to stop and help, and the father to run out to meet his returning son.

Is it any wonder that this same word compassion is used numerous times of our Lord (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mark 1:41; Luke 7:13)?

Can others see by our actions a reflection of His compassionate heart?

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The Man Jesus Said to be Like

The man we all admire

We have laws named for him.

He even made the dictionary! Good Samaritan: “a person who gratuitously gives help or sympathy to those in distress” (

Jesus’ parable features four kinds of people:

First, the violent. Thugs mugged a traveler, leaving him half dead.

Second, the victimized. The Greek word used for his wounds is trauma.


Third, the callous. When the priest and Levite came along, they “passed by on the other side.”

Fourth, the compassionate. It says that the priest, Levite, and Samaritan all saw the injured man. Only one is said to have felt compassion.

The man we should all be like

The Samaritan moved quickly from empathy to aid, giving his time, money, and himself.

Jesus concludes by telling the listener, “Go and do the same” (Luke 10:37).

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB:

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Seeing People Through Jesus’ Eyes

The Jesus who envisions

When Jesus sees people, He really sees them.

He sees people as they truly are, both what’s good in them and what’s not.

Although we cannot see deeply into hearts as He does (Matthew 9:4; John 2:24-25), how can we relate to others more as He does?

For one, Jesus does not focus just on what people are at present, but on their potential.

He was well aware of the Samaritan woman’s failures (John 4), but He also saw what He could enable her to become and do. Jesus is in the transformation business.

The Jesus who serves

Also, during His ministry He did not simply feel compassion, but He consistently acted compassionately (Matthew 14:14; 15:32-38; 20:30-34; Mark 1:40-41; 6:34; Luke 7:12-15).

Jesus came to serve, and He calls us to reflect His servant’s heart (John 13:3-17).


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