Pity Is Positive!

Christian Conduct, Stewardship

Last year I met, Mikey, my favourite homeless guy ever! I genuinely loved stopping for a chat at lunch or after work, and I was devastated when he was no longer around. Although I bought meals for him and gave him money for temporary accommodation, my interactions with him never felt onerous. He was an acquaintance, and a treasured one at that. This week, as I marvelled at the millions pledged by billionaires to rebuild Notre Dame, I had to remind myself that they were spending their disposable income on something that they deemed worthy. How do you spend yours?

“He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given.” (Proverbs 19:17)


In this verse the Hebrew word for pity (chanan) means ‘to stoop in kindness to an inferior.’ The use of the term inferior does not imply that a person who shows pity is a superior human being, but rather that their present situation is comparatively ‘superior’ to the individual in need of pity. Although the primary application of this verse may refer to financial pity i.e. giving money to the needy. There are numerous ways that kindness can be extended depending on the source of poverty. For example:

  • Isolated/lonely individuals are poor in friendships groups
  • Those with low self-esteem are poor in confidence
  • People that have been abused are poor in trust

It’s interesting that the Hebrew word used for poor (dal) means ‘dangling.’ In other words, the verse could be rendered ‘he who stoops in kindness to someone [whose social life/self-esteem/trust] is dangling, lends to the Lord.’ Whilst dangling does seem like an odd root word, I took it to mean ‘something without a firm foundation.’

Pity should be extended graciously.

Semantically, pity can often be reduced to ‘feeling sorry’ for someone; this is often why many people exclaim “don’t pity me!” or “I don’t need your pity!” Funnily enough, I haven’t heard anyone say “don’t be kind to me” or “I don’t need your kindness.” Pity carries negative connotations that aren’t present with kindness; however, biblically they are almost synonymous: pity is simply the act of showing kindness. The issue with receiving pity can sometimes be more than one of semantics. If you (as the giver) make the receiver feel inferior in the way you extend pity, then they are more likely to reject it, or accept it resentfully. Whilst the line between pity and kindness might seem blurry, it’s important to remember that your ability to help doesn’t make you the blessing. You are merely the medium through which they can receive God’s blessing.

Pay Back

I have never created a ‘giving budget.’ I do, however, have budgets for various other things which suggests I esteem them more highly than pitying. In addition, I also haven’t given much thought to those around me that might be poor in a non-financial sense. As a Christian, I find that intriguing. To a certain extent it seems like my priorities are wrong. ‘Self-care’ is a buzzword at the moment; but, intentional ‘other-care’ largely seems like an afterthought. Giving solely because you will be reimbursed is wrong; but, it is reassuring to know that God promises to be the guarantor for the poor.

Pity is affordable.

Clearly, Solomon isn’t suggesting that you keep the receipts of all your good deeds and send God regular invoices. However, he is highlighting that God will be responsible for the ‘debts’ of those who are not in a position to repay your kindness. In other words, it isn’t God’s desire that you are worse off for doing a good deed. Does the comfort of knowing God will repay mean you should give to everyone in need? No. Personally, I would call that reckless generosity as you have your own financial obligations. Moreover, it’s impossible to determine when and how God will repay. Nevertheless, I do believe that sometimes we can be so focused on our own needs that we feel helping others (financially) isn’t in the budget. As the idiom goes “where there is a will, there is a way”; no matter how little you have, if you truly want to give, you can.


Being able to lend to the poor (financially or otherwise) requires you to, a) recognise the needs of those around you, and b) be in a position to do something to help. I’m currently evaluating the following questions and perhaps you need to, too:

  1. Are all your subscriptions necessary?
  2. Are you really that busy? Or can you actually make time to serve others regularly if you tried?
  3. Do you extend biblical pity or semantic pity?
  4. Can you think of people who need non-financial pity?
  5. What is stopping you from making pitying a lifestyle, rather than something that is prompted or spontaneous?


Although I wish the Notre Dame donors would contribute to much worthier causes; the fact remains that I don’t do enough to help others with the resources that I have. So why do I expect more of wealthier individuals than myself? Mikey was pretty much an exception, but there are many others that are worthy of biblical pity.


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