There’s No Such Thing as Hurried Compassion

My students know that one of my favorite lines in The Two Towers is Treebeard’s request of Merry and Pippin to hear their adventure, “Now tell me your tale, and do not hurry!

I was especially reminded of this line while reading through Arthur Boers’s Living Into Focus. He cites this study by J.M. Darley and C.D. Batson. The study was conducted with students from Princeton Theological Seminary. The students where sent from one building to another through an alley in order to give a talk either on jobs available or on the Good Samaritan parable. Along the way, the students encountered a person in the alley who was clearly in need of medical aid, slumped in a doorway, coughing. Some students were told they had to rush to get to the talk, some where told there was no rush and some where given moderate speed instructions.(eku.edu). While only 53% of those delivering the message on the Good Samaritan stopped to help, the most relevant factor was the amount of hurry the students were in. In low hurry situations, 63% helped, 45% in a medium hurry and only 1/10 in the high hurry situation. Boers explains, “This is not surprising. After all, ’empathy and compassion’ both need ‘a calm, attentive mind.'” (Boers, 144; citing Carr, The Shallows, 220) Is it any wonder that our churches feel so cold and lacking compassion? If we would like to embody the moral character reflected in the Scriptures, perhaps we need to ask some hard questions about our levels of commitment and busyness. There is no such thing as hurried compassion.

And I might add, the Ents may have taken several days to decide their course of action, but their lack of hurry also meant that they could be counted on for thoroughness:

(Gandalf) ‘But there it is, Saruman remains to nurse his hatred and weave again such webs as he can. He has the key to Orthanc. But he must not be allowed to escape.’
‘Indeed no!’ Ents will see to that,’ said Treebeard. ‘Saruman will not set foot beyond the rock, without my leave. Ents will watch over him.’

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Why I Would Have Liked to Go to Old Princeton

It remained for one of Alexander’s beloved students, Charles Hodge (1979-1987), to give classic expression to the Princeton Theology. Hodge began his ministry at Princeton when the seminary was still in her infancy. He made his debut as professor of biblical and oriental literature, a position that he held until 1840, when he transferred to the chair of systematic theology. In 1835, he published his Commentary on the Epistle of Romans. Charles H. Spurgeon once advised, “the more we use Hodge, the more we value him. This applies to all his commentaries.” He published a Systematic Theology between 1871 and 1873 in three massive volumes, and, even so, it was not complete since it lacked a secton on the doctrine of Ecclesiology that he had planned. Yet Charles Hodge was hardly a “dry theologian.” Students saw him shed tears in his classes when he talked of the love of Christ. He followed the old Puritan adage, “Beware of a strong head and a cold heart.” A student, W.S.C. Webster, recounts Hodge announcing a hymn one day in the Oratory: “As he read he came to the lines: ‘That blood can make the foulest clean, that blood availed for me.’ But he could not read them, try as he would. ‘That blood availed,’–he could not get beyond that. The strong man bowed before the storm of emotion, and, dropping into his chair he buried his face in his hands. But we students had no difficulty in singing the whole hymn.”

From In Pursuit of Purity, by David O. Beale