A righteous man has regard for the life of his animal,
But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel. (Prov 10:12 NASB)
What does this mean? Isn’t compassion by nature almost an opposite to cruelty? We might say it another way. Compassion applied from a corrupt value system is cruelty. It is a particularly insidious cruelty because it looks like compassion and is often mistaken for the real thing.
To understand this better we need to look at how the word is being used here. In this context we can apply it the way we use it in our modern vernacular. We tend to use the word to imply compassionate actions or compassion expressed. The New King James renders the word “tender mercies.” Holman reads “merciful acts.”
Our society is full of examples of cruel compassion. Since this verse starts out talking about animals, let’s start with that. In this nation and across the world we have advocates for the “rights” of animals. Few would argue that it’s acceptable to inflict needless suffering on another living creature. Here we are told that it is a characteristic of righteousness to look after the animals entrusted to our care. That appropriate compassion becomes corrupted when animals are elevated to a status equal to or even above human beings. When farms go without water for the sake of a fish in California, when people die from malaria in third world countries because of the banning of pesticides to save birds, “compassion” is cruel.
In the name of compassion we provide for the needy, and we should, but is it compassion when we do it in such a way that they have no incentive to improve their condition? This compassion is cruel. “No child in America should go hungry,” we are told. Rightly so, but when we provide for them in a way that takes from them the fathers who would provide for them much more than physical sustenance, our compassion is cruel! Just look in our inner city neighborhoods, our schools, and our prisons.
We are told the stories of young women who make foolish choices or are deplorably used by others. We are told that compassion requires that we permit them the option of abortion. We inflict upon the mother another life-long wound and take away a human life. This is the compassion of the wicked, and this compassion is horribly cruel!
Who determines the value of life? Who decides when it is a life worth living? What happens when we do not agree? The soul in the midst of suffering cries out for relief. We suffer with it, and we wonder if compassion might demand that we make the suffering stop. But we do not know the future. Some children will never grow up, but no one can measure the impact of a life lived out with the innocence of a child. The best doctors have been befuddled by both young and old who defied the odds and went on living. A compassion that demands human life as it’s due is the compassion of the wicked, and it is cruel!