What is empathy? Google defines it as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. In essence, empathy is the practice of extending sympathy to another person through the understanding of their own feelings. To show empathy is to feel for a person, to know the problems they face because you have experienced similar problems, and to share help because of this. As essential as empathy is to a relationship, especially as a Christian, it’s not often talked about or even acknowledged: more time is spent trying to help the hurting person by fixing their problems than by trying to understand why their problems trouble them in the first place. Neither approach is intrinsically bad, but they shouldn’t be seen as mutually exclusive either. Empathy coupled with action is one of the most powerful forces in the life of the believer, spurring us on to search the Scriptures, stand for our beliefs, and protect those we love. And for today’s Random Stuff I Learned from Anime, I’d like to explore the role that empathy plays in the life of Emiya Shirou, the main character of Fate Stay/Night: Unlimited Blade Works.
The Fate series is a long-lived one for good reason: it has a diverse cast of characters, a compelling and interesting story, and well-choreographed action scenes that pull the viewer in. The story revolves around an ancient feud between mages, the Holy Grail War. Every 60 years or so, the Holy Grail picks 7 mages and bestows them with supernaturally powered Servants, champions of days past, in order for them to fight and determine the strongest. Whoever wins the Grail War gets to summon the Holy Grail and have any one wish granted to them. Needless to say, everyone who’s involved in this has a lot at stake, as each Master (the mage who commands a Servant) is out to kill the other Masters in order to secure their hold over the Grail. Or at least, most Masters are.
Enter Emiya Shirou, a novice mage who literally just accidentally fell into the role of Master, after being granted the most powerful Servant, Saber. Emiya isn’t exactly the poster child for the perfect mage: he can barely use magic at all, and he would be easy prey for other Masters if it weren’t for his fellow classmate and Master: Tohsaka Rin. Rin comes from a long line of mages and, feeling sorry for Emiya, she takes him under her wing and helps train him into a full-fledged mage. But throughout the series, as they fight other Masters and get closer to obtaining the Grail, Emiya expresses no real desire for any of it. In fact, the only reason he goes after the Grail is because his servant Saber has a wish that she wants to see fulfilled; he has no personal desire for the Grail. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, or even kill the other Masters, and he only ever acts in the defense of himself or of innocents. The other Masters don’t share his convictions, however; even Rin questions the merits of Emiya’s seeming lack of interest in the Grail War, and the steps he might have to take in order to win. So, why does Emiya even fight in the first place?
The answer lies in empathy. Early on in the series we learn that Emiya lost both of his parents in a house fire that nearly claimed his life as well, but he was saved by Kiritsugu Emiya and adopted as his son. Kiritsugu taught Emiya a little bit of Magecraft, but encouraged Emiya to use it in secret and as a means of helping people. As Emiya grew, he took Kiritsugu’s teachings to heart, and is known for his selflessness and helpfulness to those who need him. Even Saber, who is his Servant, is treated by Emiya more like a partner than a tool, and he does his best to assist her than allow her to fight alone. Where the other Masters tend to view their Servants and even other humans as beneath them (with the sole exception of Rin), Emiya sees everyone as important in their own ways, and he works hard to protect those around him from harm. Emiya represents an interesting contrast to the trope of a hero being born out of tragedy: rather than pain and loss causing Emiya to become a hero, Emiya becomes a hero because he was saved. He understands the pain of loss, but he also recognizes the hope that another person can bring, and he wants to share that. Because of the love he was shown, he can’t help but share that love with others, and he genuinely wants to help people. As believers, we experience something similar: Christ saved us from the living death of enslavement to sin, and He adopted us into His family. He loves us, and shows us His love though his death on the cross and in the daily graces He provides us every day. And when we understand what we’ve been brought out from, we too won’t be able to stop sharing the love of Christ with everyone around us. We will have true empathy for those who don’t have Christ, and we’ll want to help them to understand the change that’s happened in our lives.
So in essence…empathy in the life of the believer is an indicator of how much we understand what we have been saved from…which is an indicator of how close we are to God. What does that say about us when we judge others unfairly? Or completely write off other people who believe differently without even attempting to know them?