Indifference is one of the single most life-threatening obstacles of our post-modern age. It is the philosophy of shruggish I-don’t-care-ism that is really behind most of our cultures slide into relativism, skepticism, boredom, and promiscuity. It cleverly and cancerously sucks the vitality, passion, and sensibility from any environment or individual that ingests it. Such an ethic has killed corporations, civilizations, movements, marriages, churches, and souls with equal force. While the unbeliever can be and often is consumed and enslaved to this monstrous power sadly and disturbingly many a believer also succumbs to its corrupting influence. It is to such a reality that I wish to direct attention in this post. While still relevant to unbelievers the thrust will be upon prodding, provoking, and awakening believers.
That said, read on.
THE WEIGHT OF OUR LOVE
Christians have always struggled with the battle of indifference. Even Augustine (354-430 A.D.), the great philosopher and theologian of the Christian Church, prayed back in the 300s A.D.,
“I was astonished that although I now loved you…I did not persist in enjoyment of my God. Your beauty drew me to you, but soon I was dragged away from you by my own weight and in dismay I plunged again into the things of this world…as though I had sensed the fragrance of the fare but was not yet able to eat it.”
What naked honesty. Augustine prayed what I think many of us have prayed in our faith walk – to be reignited, to walk closer to God, to be stirred up, to be revived, to desire Him more, to be dragged into His presence, to be drawn to His beauty, and so forth. But often it seems as if our words peter-out as quickly as we say them. The heavens seem to calcify, the heart is once again snagged, and the mind once again wanders. It seems as if we go through these continual oscillating phases between desire and apathy throughout our walk.
There is a terror in all this.
Slowly, incrementally, unknowingly a shift can begin to take place within us. As we plod through these vacillating stages we progressively (or rather regressively) become less and less desirous of desiring. Our enjoyment of God not only begins to deaden but our awareness and care of that deadening begins to deaden. This is the danger of all dangers. This is where indifference rests.
Augustine revealed a seed of this problem in his own life when he said, “I was dragged away by my own weight and in dismay I plunged again into the things of the world.” Our “weight” is what gives mass to our choices. Augustine said it like this,
“My weight is my love. Wherever I am carried, my love is carrying me.”
At bottom, what we truly love is exemplified by what carries us through life. Ask yourself, “What is your weight?” To answer consider what you live for. Whatever gives you hope, peace, comfort, solace, sanity, identity, and meaning is at its root what you love. Whatever consumes your energy, time, effort, resources, and happiness is, at bottom, what you love. Augustine is not being novel here. He merely echoes the Master Carpenter of our souls who told us,
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”
This is truth. As we go through life the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13) becomes buried under a mountain of lower quality jewels that we collect. They all do hold value to our lives, and should, but as time goes on, we keep laying more and more of them upon the foundational and Greater Beauty of the Kingdom. As a result, the Kingdom becomes harder and harder to shine through. To use the analogy of Augustine, our senses become saturated by a myriad of fragrances that begin to dull the aroma of Christ.
THE DEADLY TOXINS OF LITTLE THINGS
This process of indifference does not happen immediately. It is steady, subtle, and happens almost always through good things. Therein lies the true deadliness of its power.
The road to indifference (spiritual death) is made up of a myriad of glistening bricks that individually are seemingly isolated beautiful things. Family, friends, work, eating, drinking, buying, laughing, relaxing, playing, child-rearing, fellowshipping, serving, creating, and on and on are all elements that can and often do make up the road to indifference. Successively each of these things, although independently beautiful aromas of life, gradually begin to consume everything about us. They begin to overpower and surpass our sense of the One Thing needful (Luke 10:42). In other words, they begin to distract us from the deeper longing that each of them only mirror – intimacy with the Maker of our souls (more in a minute on this).
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), the French mathematician and theologian, defined this problem powerfully when he said,
“Man’s sensitivity to little things and insensitivity to the greatest things are marks of a strange disorder.”
In short, we are agents that seem to perpetually become obsessed with the “little things” in life and regressively unconcerned with the “big things.” Let me try and forcefully modernize it for us: We tend to become far more concerned with binging through our latest television series than we are binging the Scriptures. We tend to become far more concerned with leveling up our video-game scores than leveling up our own spiritual beings. We tend to become far more concerned with looking right for the family summer barbeque than being right for the marriage supper of the Lamb. We tend to become far more concerned with ensuring our kids play sports than in training them up for the spiritual race of life. We tend to become far more concerned with cleaning our houses than having our spiritual houses in order. We tend to become far more consumed with surfing tabloids and Facebook posts than with prayer and meditation. The thing about all of these is that they are not bad things in themselves. They are good things. They are things that give us joy. But these things begin to mount up in our lives and progressively obscure the Kingdom, which is the everlasting Reality of joy.
We always assume that our slide “into sin” or our “backsliding” could come or would come in a rushing wind or a clanging symbol. But it never does. Sin is a road. It is a root. It is a cancer. It is the inverse of the Kingdom Reality of Christ who says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 4:6). The path of indifference proclaims that same truism – that it is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But it isn’t.
Indifference is therefore the most effective and hellish tool in the arsenal of the Adversary. It is the most effective because it is the most unnoticeable for it uses good things to its own end. It is the most hellish because it does not seem like its rebellion, but it is. It is another form of hate towards God. It is not an impassioned skeptical hate; it is a yawning unrecognized hate. That is why it does not seem as dangerous. With militant rebellion there is at least a passion and purpose to it. That form of hatred says, “I want to kill you!” or “I hate you God!” But with indifference there is a slow deadness to care or cause. It says, “I do not care whether you live or die” and acts as if God isn’t relevant at all.
Hate is like the rush of a tsunami or the burst of a volcano. Indifference is like the slow, methodical, corrosive leakage of a toxin. It is not noticeable. It still kills. But by all outward signs everything is fine. Until it is not.
When we are indifferent to the things of the Kingdom what we really are doing is yawning in the face of God’s beauty. It is saying, “I don’t care about You,” which is just another indirect way of saying, “I hate you God” without actually saying “I hate you God.”
LOSING SITE OF ETERNITY
Is there a way to reverse the steps of indifference? Yes. Where there is life there is hope and where there is hope there can be life once again. I do not presume to give an entire analysis in one post on the nature of indifference nor solutions to it. But in the last part of this post, I want to address at least one underlining cure for the malady of indifference.
If we want to curb the encroaching snares of indifference in our lives, then we need a renewed look at life through the lens of Eternity. The subtilty of spiritual indifference happens when we slowly lose sight of eternity and focus more on the evanesces of earthly life. It is the “Here and Now Syndrome” that needs to be broken in us. Pascal tells it bluntly like this,
One needs no great sublimity of soul to realize that in this life there is no true and solid satisfaction, that all our pleasures are mere vanity, that our afflictions are infinite, and finally that death which threatens us at every moment must in a few years infallibly face us…. Nothing could be more real, or more dreadful than that. Let us put on as bold a face as we like: that is the end awaiting the world’s most illustrious life. Let us ponder these things, and then say whether it is not beyond doubt that the only good thing in this life is the hope of another life, that we become happy only as we come nearer to it, and that, just as no more unhappiness awaits those who have been quite certain of eternity, so there is no happiness for those who have no inkling of it.
To be frank, Pascal is saying we do not think often enough about our death. This sounds morbid. But there is a truth in it. He is not speaking of a macabre nihilistic suicidal mentality towards life. Quite the opposite. He is getting across the understanding, that is deeply biblical, of seeing life through death. Put another way, seeing Eternity through the earthly or the Big things through the little things. To have this understanding is to have a healthy sense of existence. C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) said it like this,
“All that seems earth is the beginning of Hell or Heaven.”
This world, our life, is nothing more than an extension of Heaven or Hell. This life is but the foyer to a grander or more terrifying world of Eternity. You are no more eternal than you are right now. But the primeval plans of the Adversary are to ensure you do not dwell on this fact very often or at all. His job is to implant obstacles into the midst of our lives to gravitate our weight (our love) ever downward rather than upward. And he does this almost exclusively through the little good things that eventually become distractions to this Ultimate Good. We are even warned over and over in the Scriptures about this. We are told that our lives will be marked by perseverance (Romans 5:4), tests of endurance (James 1:3), wrestling’s with spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12), and cravings in our flesh (Galatians 5:17). Such struggle is to be a given. But what isn’t a given for many of us is that such a struggle can and often does take place through all the beauties and aromas that give joy to us.
Such a view of death and eternity is not meant for us to be solemn and joyless. Nor is it to create in us a sense of escapism. Rather it should craft in us a sense of joyous diligence. My late mother put such a philosophy in the simplest yet most profound words, “Live a last breath life.” That philosophy has the power to shake apathy and drive us off the path of indifference.
To give a little more robust application to this let us just consider the words of the author of Ecclesiastes,
11 He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; 13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man.
Ecclesiastes 3:11-13 (ESV)
What a beautiful scripture that encapsulates what I am trying to get across. Now I am not going to do a full exegetical study of this passage in all its richness because of brevity, but I want you to recognize a few points as I close this post:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…
Colossians 3:1-5 (ESV)
 Augustine, Confessions, trans, R.S. Pine-Coffin (New York, NY: MacMillian, 1961) pg. 152
 Augustine, Confessions, trans, Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) pg. 278-279
 Matthew 6:21
 Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. ed. Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans (USA: Ignatius Press, 1993), pg. 203
 Pascal, ibid, pg. 191-192
 Consider these scriptures that deal with the evanescence of out lives: 2 Samuel 14:14, 1 Chronicles 29:15, Psalm 90:12, Psalm 144:4, Job 14:1, Ecclesiastes 1:4, Isaiah 40:6, James 4:13-14. All of them call us to have a healthy understanding of death so that we may have a proper understanding of life.
 C.S. Lewis as quoted in Peter Kreeft, Christianity for Modern Pagans (USA: Ignatius Press, 1993), pg. 142
 C.S. Lewis, Signature Classics, The Problem of Pain (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2003), pg. 638-644
 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, ibid, pg. 640
Michael H. Erskine is a high school Social Studies Teacher, has an M.A. in History & School Administration, serves as a Bible teacher in the local church, and is happily married to his beautiful wife Amanda.