“Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” (James 5:11, AV)
When I consider the issue of compassion and mercy, many thoughts come to mind. When I think of compassion and mercy, one of the people who come to mind is my mother. When I was hurting, she was there to give comfort. When I made a mistake, she was there to ease my pain. When I failed at something, she was there to give encouragement. One night, while I was in middle-school, I became overwhelmed with the school workload, to the point of tears. My dad looks at me and with a look that expressed, “Tough it out kid,” said, “What is the matter?” My mother said, “Oh, it is nothing. Everything is ok.” She made everything right. I calmed down, became composed, and got my work done.
In this section of Scripture, James encouraged his readers to remain patient and steadfast in the midst of suffering. He used Job and his suffering as an example. Then he concluded the thought by stating “the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” A look at the words translated “very pitiful” and “of tender mercy” shows us something that should give us great encouragement in our times of suffering.
The word “very pitiful,” is translated from the Greek, oiktirmon. The ESV and others translate this as “compassionate.”This word comes from the verb oikteiro, meaning to pity or have compassion on someone or something. It is also translated as merciful in Luke 6:36. The Idea here is that mercy has to do with being compassionate, to be able to pity another. God is very compassionate towards us.
Associated with this thought and to amplify our understanding of the magnitude of God’s compassion and mercy, James uses a unique word only used here in the New Testament, translated “of tender mercy.” The ESV and others translate the word as “merciful.” The Greek word is the adjective polusplagchnos. It is an interesting word that comes from two words, polus, which means many and splagchnon, which refers to the bowels. It would seem strange to say that God is compassionate and of many bowels if we did not get the metaphoric sense of the word. The bowels or innards of a person were considered to be the seat of intense emotion or passion. It is the idea of being all torn up inside. You can probably relate to that when you are in times of deep distress, you can feel it in the heaviness of heart and often in your gut. James is saying that the heart of God is moved towards us in our times of suffering.
It is not uncommon for people to be moved inside with emotion for others who are suffering. However, James’ use of the word polusplagchnos, many-bowels, shows us that God’s compassion and mercy is above anything possible by any human being we may have known. As great as my mother’s compassion and mercy was for me, God’s compassion and mercy is infinitely greater.
When you are going through a time of suffering, remember this. God loves you. He understands your struggle and He does care for you more than you realize. His mercy and compassion towards you are beyond your finite ability to comprehend. Remember, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end” (Lamentations 3:22, ESV).