Five Feet Apart & the Significance of Empathy

All of us crave and need empathy. We crave empathy from people. But we need true empathy; We need God to empathize.

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“Boy meets girl.” Simple summation of any romantic movie ever made. The conventional storyline has become cliché.

But Five Feet Apart is unlike anything that’s been made. The two main characters, Stella and Will, have Cystic Fibrosis (CF). This is a chronic illness adds a unique obstacle in their relationship, requiring them to remain six feet apart at all times to prevent cross-infection. 

Their relationship begins solely because they both battling CF and are located on the same floor in the hospital. There’s an empathy for one another, knowing what the other is going through and the serious effects of CF (Will has a dangerous bacterial infection, B. cepacia).

Stella and Will have empathy. And, this movie demonstrates how significant empathy can be in our lives.

Love Born From Empathy

Stella Grant, a CF patient who also has been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), meets Will Newman, another a newly arrived CF patient to their floor of the hospital (but has a bacterial infection called B. cepacia).

After their initial conversation, Stella realizes that Will is not following his medication regimen. Due to her OCD, she eventually organizes Will’s medication regimen and commits to FaceTiming him in order to keep track of his new schedule. They FaceTime because of the strict rule that all CF patients must remain six feet apart to reduce the chance of cross-infection.

Because of their constant interactions and shared experience with CF, they begin to develop romantic feelings for each other. After sharing with each other their romantic feelings, Stella declares that CF has stole so much from her that she’s willing to “steal” one foot from CF. 

Stella and Will go on their first date around the hospital holding a pool cue to keep them five feet apart. After this, more romantic gestures follow, leading to a dramatic and emotional end of the movie.

After I watched the movie, I was struck that the genesis of their friendship and relationship came from empathy. They understood what the other was going though, the spent time together in the everyday rhythms of living with CF, and they knew the fears and dreams of the other person.

They knew so their love flourished.

Empathy Born From Love

All of us crave and need empathy. We crave empathy from people. But we need true empathy; We need God to empathize.

And thankfully we do have have a God who can empathize.

Maybe you’ve been taught that God is far above us in every way or maybe you’ve been taught that God is exactly like us, that God is like us. 

Well, both of those things are wrong.

Those views of God are wrong because they aren’t based on the Bible.

God is holy. To quote one of the greatest theologians of our time, R.C. Sproul states,

When the Bible speaks about God’s holiness, the primary thrust of those statements is to refer to God’s transcendence, to His magnificence, to that sense in which God is higher and superior to anything there is in the creaturely realm. Again, the simplest way to discuss this is to say that which is holy is that which is different. – R.C. Sproul

So yes, God is completely different than us. But God is also described in the Bible as empathic.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. 
Hebrews 4:15

Jesus was fully God and fully man. Through his life on Earth, he was tempted just like us. Jesus experienced pain, discomfort, suffering, and an excruciating death on a cross. We have a Savior who lived in this broken world, just like us, but did not rebel against God the Father.

Jesus, fully God and fully man, loved his people so he knew pain and suffering.

Love Born From Love

Usually articles you read may end talking about how God’s love for his children led him to be empathic. While that is very true, I believe I wouldn’t be doing my job without giving you something to act on.

Simple: Love because you are loved.

Vague? Fine, here’s something more clear.

1 John 4:19-21 tells us that since God first loved us, we must love all people, especially our brothers and sisters in the household of Christ.

How? Jesus tells us,

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 
John 15:12 

We are to love one another by grace, with all patience and kindness, full of truth from God’s word. We love sacrificially, cheerfully, and generously. Our love should know no end, and our love should never change. This is how he loves his people.

Christians are called to love because we have been loved first by a holy and empathetic God.

Five Feet Apart echoes the truth that we crave empathy from others but we need a God who empathizes. Praise God that Jesus lived life perfectly (in the midst of tremendous pain and suffering), died the death we deserve for our sins against God, and rose from the dead to solidify that our only hope for salvation is found in him.

God knows you, your pain, your confusion, your brokenness. Believe in a God who knows you, empathizes with you and desires for his children to place their trust in him.

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