Given the miserable state of so much of the world, it seems that most people do not really care very much. Apathy and indifference reign, as things continue to go downhill all around us. And so-called Christians are just as guilty of this as any non-Christians are.
Those people who are troubled by what they see, and who cannot just sit by and let it happen, are few and far between. Francis Schaeffer used to speak about the ruling “impoverished values” of our time: “personal peace and affluence”. We in the West seek to just be left alone, not be bothered, and have plenty of material comforts and goodies.
As long as we have that we are content. We don’t want anything to rock our boat, make us feel uncomfortable, or strip away our consumerist pleasures. Life is simply all about meeting our own personal selfish needs and not giving a rip about anyone or anything else. Schaeffer put it this way in How Should We Then Live?:
“Personal peace means just to be let alone, not to be troubled by the troubles of other people, whether across the world or across the city – to live one’s life with minimal possibilities of being personally disturbed. Personal peace means wanting to have my personal life pattern undisturbed in my lifetime, regardless of what the result will be in the lifetimes of my children and grandchildren. Affluence means an overwhelming and ever-increasing prosperity – a life made up of things, things, and more things – a success judged by an ever-higher level of material abundance.”
Tragically far too many Christians live exactly the same way. All we want is to be left alone and to live the good life. We have forgotten all about the truths of the gospel, truths such as this one: “I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16).
The life of Jesus was characterised by concern for others, self-sacrifice, rejection of comfort and ease, and an overwhelming passion to radically transform his world. That then should be what characterises any one of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus.
How could it be any less? Yet we are submerged in an ocean of indifference and lack of concern. We are like the student who, when asked by his teacher, “What is it with you? Is it ignorance or apathy?” replied, “I don’t know and I don’t care”.
We do not have the broken heart of God for our needy and messed up world. We don’t even see the needs out there. We are far too busy looking inwards, navel-gazing, worried about our own self-esteem, and our own personal comforts and security. This has always been a problem for the church – to be comfortable, complacent, and indifferent to what is happening around us.
Fortunately not all believers feel this way. Last night as I was reading one of my favourite authors, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I came upon these moving words, and was most pleased to see he was addressing this very issue. They came from a sermon he had delivered around 65 years ago. And they are 100 per cent appropriate to the situation believers find themselves in today:
“At the final bar of judgment, when those of us who are Christians stand face to face with our Maker, the gravest charge that will be made against us will be that we were so unconcerned. We lived at a time and in an age when the very foundations of civilization were being shaken, when the very world in which we lived was rocking, when we witnessed things such as men have never seen before. We saw the spiritual and moral, as well as the political, declension all around us, and yet we did nothing about it. We were apathetic and unconcerned. We did not feel a great solicitude that would not allow us to rest by day or by night.”
And such a prophetic word has always been a part of God’s word to his people. Writing some 2800 years ago, the prophet Amos also spoke about the cavalier indifference and sinful apathy of his fellow Israelites. In chapter 6 we especially find strong words of rebuke for such attitudes.
Consider this rebuke from Yahweh in Amos 6:1, 6: “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion … Woe to those who do not grieve over the ruin of Israel”. Verse one warns about complacency, indifference and apathy. The people seemed to have everything they wanted – at least in material terms – so they were at ease.
As James Montgomery Boice writes, “There is an ease that should not exist among God’s people. . . . In itself being at ease is not bad. In fact, there are verses in the Bible that invite us to rest or promise rest at the end of life’s labours. [But], there is also a wrong kind of rest about which Amos is talking. It is the rest of indifference.”
As for verse 6, the Hebrew term being used is quite strong: it can better be translated, ‘Woe to those who “are not sick in their stomach” over the sin and decadence of Israel,’ and the fact that it will be under God’s judgment. As Alec Motyer comments, v. 6 points to “the cardinal defect of the days of luxury and lolling: failure to care for the break-up of the state and the broken lives of its people.”
Sounds just like the situation we find ourselves in today. Our societies are crumbling, our churches are disintegrating, and all around us are broken and needy people. But where are the caring Christians? And the first indication of genuine care is caring enough to act.
Those who are not apathetic and indifferent, but are moved by what they see, will be moved to action. Pagans know all about this, so why don’t believers? Indeed, I read a small item in today’s paper which perfectly illustrates this. One greenie cares enough about her cause to actually be doing something about it – even something quite radical.
Consider this story: “A Tasmanian protestor has attracted worldwide attention after spending seven months living in a tree 60m above ground. Miranda Gibson celebrated her 31st birthday last week on a small platform 60m in the air. . . . Ms Gibson’s protest has attracted worldwide attention through social media and a daily blog she writes from her treetop perch in the Styx Valley. Loggers moved into the area in December and Ms Gibson moved up the tree.”
She is aware of what is happening, cares about it, and is doing something about it. Now one may – as I do – disagree with what she is making a stink about, and her rather perverted understanding of things in this regard, but no one can deny that she cares and she is acting on her cares.
Kinda puts most of us Christians to shame. We don’t seem to give a rip about anything, so it is little wonder that we are basically doing nothing about anything. We are just sitting around in our little bless-me clubs, luxuriating in our personal peace and affluence.
Well did Dante write in his famous Inferno: “The hottest level in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in a moral crisis.” Dorothy Sayers also discussed this connection between hell and indifference: “In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”
Christians of all people should not only be a caring people but a doing people. We should put the green tree-huggers to shame for our zeal, compassion, dedication, care, action and energy. Yet most times we come nowhere close to this. It is as scandalous as it is anomalous for the believer to be this way.
Someone not too long ago posted this very telling comment on my website, about a very famous Christian woman in Holland who sheltered Jews from the Nazis: “I went to see Corrie ten Boom’s house in Haarlem 3 years ago, which is now a museum. There we were told that in oppressive times the ratio of what people do is usually like this: 5% go with the oppressors wholeheartedly, 5% work against them wholeheartedly, and 90% do nothing, because they either don’t care or they are afraid.”
The church today seems to be filled with people who do not care or are afraid. The Bible has harsh words to say about both groups. I hope you are not in either one of these camps. As two young Moravians said as they were setting sail to sell themselves into slavery to reach some Indians on the other side of the world: “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.”