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Empathy and the Law

Hunter Hanger, who graduated from Regent December of 2010 after earning a joint degree in Law and Theology, spoke of the indispensable role of empathy in the practice of law—and life—at the final Law Chapel service of the 2010-11 academic year.

After sharing a personal anecdote that taught him the difference between empathy and sympathy, Hanger, a self-described “fixer,” said that “As aspiring attorneys people are going to come into our offices in pain, and our response is going to be to look for a solution to their problems, but if that is all we do I think we will be missing the mark.” He explained that in order to offer the best solution for a client’s problem, lawyers must first be willing to “sit in the mud” with them.

“We all know that ‘Jesus wept,’ is the shortest verse in the English translation of the Bible,” he said, “but it is also a model of Christian empathy.” Hanger suggested that even though Jesus probably knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, He still chose to enter into Mary and Martha’s pain, to “sit in the mud” with them, to weep with them.

He then continued to unfold the empathetic character of Jesus as presented in Hebrews 4:15 which says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin.” In other words, Jesus is empathy personified, and the fact that He bore our sins on the cross, Hanger elaborated, not only means that He saved us, but that He felt our pain.

Hanger concluded by reminding listeners that pain is not the only emotion for which people need empathy, but joy as well. And at times when we find that we are having difficulty empathizing with others offering to pray for them is the best way to enter into their joy or suffering. The end-game, he explained, is oneness not only with each other, but with Christ. “As we step into peoples’ pain and joy we will start to take on the character of Christ.”

- By Molly Eccles

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