Last week we began to look at burdens we bear instead of bearing fruit. The first burden we looked at was the burden of defensiveness: a burden that grows from a root of insecurity and is nourished by self-sufficiency and a desire to “prove” God to yourself and others. We discovered that Jesus’ biggest temptation in Matthew 4 was to “defend” God – and what a chip on your shoulder this “defensiveness” can be.
The burden we’re looking at this week is one I think a growing number of Christians are familiar with: the burden of apathy. In a world awash with pain, conflict and suffering, Christians seem to spend times in headlines for all the wrong reasons – for making worse, and not for healing. But this corporate apathy has its beginnings in individual apathy. Think about the following questions and answer them “Yes” or “No”:
- It is not our job to fix the world; our family/church/community has enough problems of its own.
- The fallen world deserves its judgment.
- I feel overwhelmed by all the bad in the world.
- I’m not much interested in worldly affairs.
- I struggle to see God’s work in the world as it is today.
If you answered more questions “Yes” than you did “no”, you might be struggling with this burden.
What does this burden look like?
We’re exposed to an unprecedented amount of “bad” news. Just scroll through any major news corporation’s Twitter feed and you’re inundated with a blow-by-blow account of the world’s ills, all in bite-sized format: x people killed. Y people lost. Z money spent. Brangelina’s split! It’s pain, panoramic. The instantaneousness of information has the odd effect of both bringing us closer and numbing us down for all our exposure.
Pain isn’t just global in scale, though. Often it’s up close and personal because it’s up close and personal: your sibling is addicted to drugs. Your best friend’s been cheated on. Your marriage isn’t working out. You’ve lost your job. You don’t know your kids. There’s a serious illness in the family. And it’s not just you dealing with all this stuff – it’s everywhere! In setting up the church slides this week, I had to add two additional slides for all the additional prayer requests. Sick people, people in pain, people grieving.
The world – ours and the one around us and “out there” – seems to be demanding more and more of our care, but we’re fresh out. So we make our “care” smaller. We keep it close: close family and friends only. And when that gets too much, we shrink it down even more. Everyone for themselves! The burden of apathy sags down the branches of our tree – our tree that’s supposedly planted next to water (Jeremiah 17:7-8) – and we sag with it, down, down.
I don’t think this is surprising, really. You know what nourishes this, what makes it pop out gluttonous fruit? Fear. See, it hurts to care. It hurts to have so much bad weighing you down. It’s quite literally a downer and naturally we’re afraid to feel this way. But fear isn’t even the biggest issue here. No, the root of this burden is far thornier: the root of this burden is doubt.
To proclaim a gloriously good God in a world terminally messed up? To say “Yet you are holy” (Psalm 22:3) when your kid is dead, your wife is gone, your job sucks, you’re going nowhere? To say “In you I trust” (Psalm 25:2, 31:14) when explosions and earthquakes and wars tear and plunder?
I think we’d be mad not to have doubt. We’d have to be fanatical not to have questions, not to lament our lostness. I honestly don’t think we will ever be doubt-free.
But does that mean we’re stuck with this burden of apathy? Or does it mean that God expects us to live in pain over pain?
I don’t think so. While God absolutely expects us to care, it’s what we do with that care that turns our doubt into something life-giving; into faith.
In Matthew 11:25-28 Jesus reveals the following:
“All things have been committed to me by my Father … Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Let’s unpack this, and we’ll end with it:
- All things – all pain, whether personal, local, national, or global – have been committed to Jesus Christ, and it’s this commitment he undertook that sent him to be born, that carried him to the cross and kept him there. It’s also what resurrected him from death.
- When we take burdens upon ourselves, we are trying to mimic what Jesus has already done and accomplished on the cross. It’s unnecessary. We are to give our cares to Jesus. Not to “free us” from care – but to enable us to keep on caring!
- In sharing this burden with Jesus, in taking up the “light” yoke of his peace, grace and love, apathy, its nourishment fear, and its root of doubt are transformed into the ability to walk in love and light (John 8:12). Spiritual fruit flourish under these conditions.
Still, the initiative in surrendering our burdens lies with us. When we see and experience pain and any number of ills, will we choose to shield ourselves with apathy because we’re afraid the world is right about God’s nature or existence – that such pain cannot exist in a universe where he is acknowledged Creator – or will we turn our faces not away from pain, but toward Christ so that we can look upon it together?
And looking, see?
And seeing, feel?
And feeling, do?