Compassion Fatigue


natural disasters Poverty suffering

Compassion Fatigue

7 October 2009 Hits:3903

According to Melbourne’s Herald Sun Newspaper (Saturday, October 3, 2009) “Australians are in danger of succumbing to “compassion fatigue” with multiple disasters leaving charities in critical need.”  The paper went on to quote UNICEF Australia spokesman Martin Thomas who said “there is certainly always a great danger of compassion fatigue…when we have seen disaster after disaster.”

Compassion fatigue is apparently what sets in when there have been too many disasters and we all get fed up with having to dig deep again and again to help alleviate human suffering. Of course, such a condition could only be named and blamed in a self-indulgent, prosperous western nation such as ours. “I’m so sorry, I’d love to help out but I’m suffering too – from compassion fatigue” – give me a break!

In a country where the poorest person is still in the top 8% of the world’s wealthy, we are in danger of committing the sin of Sodom.  The prophet Ezekiel had this to say about this former city: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). It’s a fascinating verse especially as much of the church think that Sodom was destroyed because it was full of gay people. Ezekiel reveals that God’s anger burned against the people of this city because they had plenty of time and plenty of resources (just like us) but they didn’t give a rip about those in need – the poor dears suffered from compassion fatigue – and paid the ultimate price!

I’m told there are over 2000 references in the Bible to the responsibility of those who have to help those who have not. Obviously, this is a major topic on the mind of God. And we better get used to it because Jesus prophesied that there would be an increase of natural disasters leading up to His Second Coming (see Matthew 24:7).  This prophecy is highly concerning, but at the same time, it offers a wonderful opportunity for we Christians to demonstrate our counter cultural hearts.  So, “let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:9-10).

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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3 replies on “Compassion Fatigue”

Cam Butlersays:

Hi Rob,

Thanks for your perspective on people who get tired of compassion & mercy for the poor, hungry and traumatised. Unfortunately in recent times (Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper (Saturday October 3)) have used the term ‘compassion fatigue’ outside of its recognised meaning. It’s likely they’ve unfairly done this to stir emotional interest for their cause in the public arena.

My fear is that we are devaluing a very real and pressing issue. Simply due to vernacular!

Compassion Fatigue in trauma and critical incident environments is a very valid concept which needs to be appreciated. Those people working on the front line of emergency response and recovery services often dealing with some of the most horrific experiences first or second hand are vulnerable to critical incident stress. Other definitions include Compassion Stress, secondary victimisation, secondary traumatic stress and vicarious traumatisation. See

And Christian people are not immune to compassion fatigue as well. With the rise of significant numbers of Christian men and women serving as chaplains on the front line of critical incident ministry like bushfire and earthquake response chaplains self care and debriefing is essential. Without it carers burn out or even burn up.

This space is relatively new for the church. And understanding needed.

Even our sports chaplains aren’t immune. For example, one our Motor Sports Chaplains came in contact with a scorched body (cadaver) and every time he came across the smell of smoke it reminded him of the traumatic scene he experienced.

A great book to understand more on the subject of Compassion Fatigue and how our churches can serve those on the front line of trauma and critical incident ministries like chaplaincy is Dr Stephen Robinson’s book “Ministry in Disaster Settings”. See

I trust that when we use the term Compassion Fatigue the Christian community understands its relevant context. Maybe we should rightly call the Herald Sun’s definition Compassion Lethargy.


Hey Rob,

This is a good topic to address. It was very evident that after the bush fire relief a lot of hardship was going to come to the poor and needy. Many companies and people jumped on the giving bandwagon and pulled together (as you think we would), but once a “company” or “organisation” gives to one “relief”, they have done their community service for the time being and any other genuine need will not be considered. It is about making a profit after all. I am sure, Charities all around Australia are finding it hard to get donations, in-kind or otherwise from most companies.

For People, I am actually still very surprised at their generosity, evidently not all people are still giving but there are still those out there whom are giving more then their fair share… whatever that may be. But for Christians, we need to make sure we know where our hearts are. Make sure we are not putting ourselves first, especially above God. One particular Scripture comes to mind:

“For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” (Matt 25:42-43)

We as Christians MUST make sure to put God first in our lives. Then, when we give, we will be giving out of Godly Principles and not out of Earthly ones.

Addressing your teaching regarding Sodom, Ezekiel also says, “And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good” (Ezekiel 16:50 KJV)

God didn’t destroy them JUST because of having plenty of time and resources and not giving to the poor and needy, but also because they where haughty and committed abominations before Him. What are these haughty and abominations they committed? – well, that’s for another post. But it’s hard to come to the conclusion that same sex (male to male) relations where [u]not[/u] taking place in Sodom. Especially with the story of Gen 19. Why is that story in the bible? and not stories of how the poor and needy scattered the streets. Am I looking too much into the text?

Love and Blessings,


James Crownsays:

Like Stephen said you forgot to mention Ezekiel 16:50, which says that They were haughty and did detestable things before me…” The Hebrew word translated “detestable” refers to something that is morally disgusting and is the exact same word used in Leviticus 18:22 that refers to homosexuality as an “abomination.” Similarly, Jude 7 declares, “…Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion.” So, again, while homosexuality was not the only sin in which the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah indulged, it does appear to be the one of the primary reasons for the destruction of the cities.

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