“Beware of the apathy that comes with constantly handling the holy.” That was the advice my mom passed down to me when I was packing up my room in Crawford with the hope that I could squish it all into a college dorm. I knew what she meant – a submersion in “all things God” at a private Christian school might chip away at the awe that should come from standing before a wholly holy God. But apathy would never affect me.
The image that always comes to mind when I think about apathy is this one. We were at Sondays Camp, junior year of high school. My friends and I were slouched side by side in the July Texas sun (basically boycotting recreation time), and our youth pastor came up to encourage us to play the game (to no avail). That’s when he jokingly said, “Y’all are the picture of apathy.”
Apathy isn’t always as innocent as the refusal to play Steal the Bacon or Ultimate Frisbee, though. It’s so easy to slip into, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. How much easier it is to lie on the couch and make slingshots out of my ponytail holder for my puppy to fetch! Apathy is the “slow fade” that you don’t even notice, like a kid playing in the ocean and drifting down the beach, only to look up and realize her parents are in the distance, so much further away than when she last glanced. And let me assure you as someone who’s made it countless times in the fifty-degree, rocky Californian ocean: the walk back to safety is a whole lot harder than the drift was. I think this is the perfect picture of apathy.
I’ve learned that God is far from apathetic about apathy in his children. The most quoted verse on apathy, I think, is Revelation 3:16: “But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” The danger isn’t so much in the unbelief – the coldness – because the unbelief leads to questions and the search for truth, and God says he will reveal himself to those who search (Jeremiah 29:13). The danger is in the “I do believe, but there’s always tomorrow to start listening.” That’s when Satan will hit you where you have no defense because you haven’t cared enough to build one.
I don’t think apathy always presents itself in the choice to binge-watch Parks and Recreation and spend time with God at a “later time” that never comes, though. Sometimes, I think it’s the opposite. It’s getting so wrapped up in “the motions” of Christianity that we forget about the relationship with Christ. John 5:39-40 says, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” The rules and the laws show us our need for a Savior, but they themselves aren’t God. Thinking that they are is becoming a Pharisee, people who were so consumed with the rules of the Sabbath that they missed the Lord of the Sabbath walking in their midst. We must come to know God himself – we must seek him with all our hearts – not just to the practice of a stereotypical Christian life.
I could go on forever with this because God speaks in so many ways about apathy if we care enough to listen – and the very definition of the word is that we often don’t. But my dad jokes that there’s no such thing as a bad short sermon, and I think you get the point, so I want to leave you with this. In Psalm 51, King David realizes the depth of his sin and begins to seek God once again. He prays, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” And God does just that, and David goes on to become a renowned leader who is called by God himself “a man after God’s own heart.” That’s my prayer for myself and for any of you who are struggling with “the apathy that comes from constantly handling the holy.” Renew in me, O God, a steadfast spirit.