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A Better Answer to Apathy

After introducing the problem of apathy in our culture, one so rife that our age could be called, The Age of Apathy, I presented what I believed was a pretty good answer to the question of our national malaise. And while I still think it is a good answer, containing many necessary elements in combating complacency in our culture and our hearts, I also realize it is an incomplete answer.

I know this because the apathy I am most intimately acquainted with is my own. Any thoughts I have on the subject are gleaned directly from my own experience, my own dark wanderings, my own battle with that demonic voice telling me that no one cares so I shouldn’t care either. In the end it mattered little how I changed my outlook on life. The impetus towards spiritual stagnation could not be slowed by a mere alteration in outlook.

It is still important and necessary to challenge the values our culture holds dear. We must, if we wish to make the most of this one opportunity we have at life, stop trying to create a perfect and safe world and embrace the wild and dangerous one. We must turn to truth, depth, beauty and quality, and realize that sometimes the point of battle is not victory as much as the taking up the fight.

But none of these is really an answer to apathy.

The question that apathy forces us to answer is: Why does any of this matter? If no one else cares, why should I? If people want to be shallow, ignorant and oblivious, why should I try so vainly to shake them from their stupor? What’s the point of it all anyway?

These questions, and the question of apathy, leads us to that insane existential crossroads that begs the ultimate question: Why is life worth living?

The modern answer is that we live simply to be happy. Thus we have come to the place we are today, continually nursing our narcissism in the vain hope that it will fulfill us. Even though we grow more miserable everyday we cling to this answer of self-satisfaction, even as it proves itself with each passing year that the quest for happiness is incapable of holding at bay the dark tides of despair.

So why is life not only worth living, but worth fighting for? Or better yet, why are others worth fighting? Why struggle to lead others to a richer life if all they want is to be filled with empty pleasures and cheap food?
The question is not, as I wrongly approached, an intellectual one. It is not one that can be answered reasonably or logically. It is a question concerning our pre-rational foundations of belief, our faith, the hidden fire that moves us. One could call it a question or problem of mythology. One could also accurately call it a spiritual problem. If it is a spiritual problem, then it requires a spiritual answer.

The answer I can best present to you is the answer presented to me. It is the best by far, and there is no close second.
The most complete and final answer we can get to the question of apathy, the one thing that answers the darkness, not in reasons or refutations, but in its own unconquerable blaze of light, is the cross of Jesus Christ.

To think about it, no one had better reason to be apathetic and complacent that our incarnate Lord. He degraded himself to become human and teach man the higher life, and they defied him with short-sighted questions as if they knew better. All he could manage to gather about himself were twelve disciples, who most of the time could barely grasp what he taught them. One went so far as to even betray him for a modest sum of money. The religious leaders who should have been his greatest allies, the ones who knew better, were his bitterest enemies. And to make the situation even more despairing, the very people he came to save, the hungry and lost people thirsting for salvation; it was they in their slavish fury who rose up and demanded he be killed. And they mocked him as they killed him, weak and pathetic creatures strutting with presumed superiority in the face of a God who could destroy them with a word.
If any man ever had a perfectly justifiable reason to be apathetic, it was Christ. Who could have blamed him if he had wiped his hands of the whole human race and ascended directly from the cross to paradise? To leave humanity to its own devices, to let them roast in the fire they had lit for thimselves, would have made perfect sense. It would have been a reasonable answer to the hopelessness that he felt. And that Jesus felt such despair is clearly indicated in the accounts of his death. Apathy bore down upon him more heavily than it had any man alive, because he had greater reason to feel despair and apathy. That groaning emptiness filled him with tears, pressed out his blood in sweat and showed him the futility of his mission. Just to hear the jeering and angry crowds, happily dancing to damnation, was reason and demonstration enough to prove that his life and passion were utterly pointless.

Christ gave us his answer to that apathy. He stretched out his arms and died.

He did not answer apathy with fury. He did not answer with argument. He did not even answer with power. Instead, he stretched out his arms and he died.

He died for those that hated him. He died for those who murdered him. And he even died for those that didn’t care, for those who didn’t want to be saved.

There is no better answer to apathy than this. There is no better answer than the cross of Jesus Christ.

We love to celebrate the empty cross, the eventual triumph of our Risen Lord. But we need to just as often remember the agony of the crucifix, the passion of our Crucified Lord. If we think of nothing but the resurrection then we forget that the battle rages on even if victory is certain. Lives will still be lost or wasted unless our effort is more vigilant than the enemy and as passionate as the one we serve.

To remember the cross is to remember that this world is worth fighting for, if for no other reason that Christ found it worth dying for. We can be filled with the passion to serve, to create, to stretch our minds and imaginations to their uttermost limits, to fight on because he whose passion redeemed the whole order of fallen creation fills us with his power and his consuming love for all the works of the Father.

I know this is the answer to apathy, because it was the answer to the despair within me. I know it is the answer to your apathy because it was the answer to the despair of a hopeless world.

What then if no one else cares? What then if no one else sees? What then if no one else notices or rewards or makes any change at all in their life? What if you struggle all your years and the world marches on oblivious and uncaring?

He who sees all things, who judges all things, who gives all things – He cares, He sees, He knows, He gives. And in Him, and Him alone, is the light of true life.

 

Mortals join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began
Father love is reigning o’er us
Brother love binds man to man

Ever singing, march we onward
Victors in the midst of strife
Joyful music leads us sunward
In the triumph song of life

Henry Van Dyke

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One Response to A Better Answer to Apathy

  1. Excellent stuff here; thanks, Robert. Relevant that my devotional today in “My Utmost for His Highest” includes the following: “The proof that we are rightly related to God is that we do our best whether we feel inspired or not.”

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