My wonderfully eccentric 7th grade speech teacher called herself, “the Princess.” Bespeckled in a plastic crown (not kidding), she sat me down with my speech about fighting injustice, full of statistics and quotes, and asked me, “Don’t you care about injustice?”
I was taken aback. Of course I cared, didn’t she see all the information? She pressed on to say the speech didn’t sound like I cared, and so why should she? She reshaped my speech and had me interrupt my talk and point to a listener and ask, “Does it bother you when people are victimized and yet no one moves to respond?” And then to repeat the question a few times ending with “Does it bother anyone?”
Who did I think I was? Certainly the Princess gave me a successful angle on a tired subject – ‘fighting crime.’ But really she inculcated in me a thought that underlying the inertia of human dysfunction was this thing called apathy. As a teenager it was already becoming a well-practiced art, the art of not caring, of shrugging the shoulders and showing no difficulty could phase my calm and cool exterior. But called by a different name, ‘cool’ was actually ‘apathy,’ I felt enlisted into a new approach to challenges.
The Greeks gave us the word apathy. For them ‘a-patheos’ the art of ‘avoidance of passion’ was more than a disposition, it was a virtue, an aspiration. Feelings associated with passion – fear, pain, grief, love, desire, pleasure – were to be extirpated completely. Purging passionate feelings allowed the soul to remain unaffected when events lay outside of one’s control; apatheia created an ‘indifference’ that kept the soul in peace.
But any reading of the psalms reveals a biblical people profoundly affected by world events - in praise, in grief, in anger, in lament, in a cry for justice. "Most scripture speaks to us but the psalms speak for us,” Eugene Peterson says. We take comfort that these saints trust in God drew from a deep and passionate relationship with God.
I don’t think apathy today results only from a modern day Stoicism, but from the way we become overwhelmed by violence in schools, violence against families, terrorists bombing bystanders, and we wonder, what can anyone do to stop this?
The psalmists cried out first and foremost in loud lament.
"God, arrogant people have attacked me;
a gang of ruthless men seeks my life.
They have no regard for You.
15 But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth. "
The psalmist did NOT simply say, “Arrogant people have attacked me. Oh well! Whatever!”
Nor did he say, “Arrogant people have attacked me. I'm going to make their life a living hell.”
No, the psalmist found refuge in God, and his trust of God gave him the grace and conviction to carry on.
With his disciples Jesus extends ‘loving your neighbours’ to include ‘loving your enemies.’ “For if you love those who love you, what reward will you get? … Do not even common folks do that? Be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”
Far from a perfect detachment, a separated peace to which the Greek aspired, God calls His people to engage in loving the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and even the enemy.
Jesus is calling us to be His hands and feet of healing and reconciliation in the world that welcomes strangers, refugees, and those on the margins.
director of missions IVCF
Mission Pilgrims is the call to live all life as a mission road following Jesus, growing as disciples as we go making disciples.
I host this blog but will involve many other contributors who are walking in Jesus mission with their lives, including:
Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship staff and students, campers, alumni, teachers, engineers, doctors, business, social workers, bakers, and candlestick-makers. Jesus calls all in His life-long mission pilgrimage whether its across the street or across the world.
For more extraordinary stories of our short-term missions, go to Extraordinary Stories