Why does the Bible say that God is “very pitiful”? (James 5:11). Doesn’t “pitiful” mean “pathetic”?—T.P., from Oklahoma.
Thanks for the question! As I’m sure you’re aware, over time, some words can change meanings. The word “pitiful” originally meant “full of pity.” That means, you took pity, or compassion on someone’s condition and circumstances, and helped them.
On the other side of the coin, if you were that person who was in a horrible situation, you were to be “pitied.” You’ve heard people say, “I don’t want your pity”? They’re saying they don’t want to be viewed as someone who’s having a rough time who’s needing help.
Over the 400+ years since the King James Version came out, the word “pitiful” has come to be used to refer to the person who is to be pitied instead of the one who has pity on them. In fact, people would think you were quite strange if you used the word properly and announced to the world, “I am very pitiful!”
So, while it is common for people to use the word “pitiful” as a synonym for “pathetic” or “to be pitied,” that’s not what the word actually means. And that’s not what it meant in James 5:11.
If you want to know something really cool about this verse, then you’ll love this: The Greek word that’s translated “very pitiful” literally means “much-hearted”, or to say it in a more modern way, “has a big heart.”
Isn’t it great to know that God has a big heart when it comes to His people?