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Indifference.

September 30, 2006

I was engaged in conversation with a friend the other day about some family situations. This person shared with me about a frustration felt because of an attitude of “indifference” in a valued and precious relationship.

This word, “indifference,” weighed heavily on my mind for a day or two after our conversation.

“Indifferent”–noun
1. lack of interest or concern:
We were shocked by their indifference toward poverty.
2. unimportance; little or no concern:
Whether or not to attend the party is a matter of indifference to him.
3. the quality or condition of being indifferent.
4. mediocre quality; mediocrity.
[Origin: 1400–50; late ME, var. of indifferency < L indifferentia. See indifferent, -ence, -ency]

—Synonyms 1. Indifference, unconcern, listlessness, apathy, insensibility all imply lack of feeling. Indifference denotes an absence of feeling or interest; unconcern, an absence of concern or solicitude, a calm or cool indifference in the face of what might be expected to cause uneasiness or apprehension; listlessness, an absence of inclination or interest, a languid indifference to what is going on about one; apathy, a profound intellectual and emotional indifference suggestive of faculties either naturally sluggish or dulled by emotional disturbance, mental illness, or prolonged sickness; insensibility, an absence of capacity for feeling or of susceptibility to emotional influences.
—Antonyms 1. eagerness, responsiveness.

I didn’t have to do a great deal of thinking or studying on this word to recognize that “indifference” is an attitude that gets under my skin too. I tried to think of reasons why anyone would really choose to be “indifferent.”

…You don’t have to worry about choosing sides.

…You don’t have to worry about being let down.

…You don’t have to worry about being wrong or rejected.

…You don’t have to experience loss or pain or hurt.

…Indifference takes less energy, thought and emotional investment.

Those seem like good reasons, I guess. ( or at least excuses which satisfy the person giving them)

Indifference is basically a defense mechanism to protect your heart and your soul. Don’t commit to anything…fly under radar…and nobody gets hurt. What does it hurt to be indifferent?

Aaron Tippen sang a song many years ago with the words, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” It was quite popular, especially among the good ole’ boys that I knew. It was a song about backbone, finding your passion and making commitment to life…about “being a man.”
Another line in the song says, “Whatever you do today, you’ll have to sleep with tonight.” And in the bridge, he sings, “I know that things are different than they were in daddy’s day…but I still believe what makes a man, really hasn’t changed.”

I got to thinking about that line, “what makes a man.” Now I know all kinds of men (and women)…and they have all sorts of qualities about their character. But I do admit that it is not “indifference” that stands out as an admirable quality that “makes a man.” (though I do and have know quite a few men who were perfectly satisfied being “indifferent.”)

The qualities that I admire most about men (and women)…but people in general…include:

Confidence — well, certainly indifference does not reflect confidence.

Passion — you can’t be passionate and indifferent too. I just don’t see how it can be.

Knowledge and wisdom — you can’t be indifferent if you have the knowledge and wisdom to make a choice or take a stand.

Vision — what good is vision if you can’t commit to it or the steps necessary to achieve it.

Generosity — if indifference is a self-protection mode, then how can you have compassion or mercy or even joy in sharing with or helping others.

Adventurous — there’s an old saying, “if you are falling off a cliff, you might as well try to fly…because you have nothing to lose.” An indifferent person probably wouldn’t be on a cliff in the first place, right?

What I see in people who have these other qualities…are folks who can and do make a difference. I see people who “know what and in WHOM they have believed.” They KNOW who they are…and they are comfortable in their own skin…and the person that God has created them to be.

Are people born this way?

I can’t believe that God would create any person to be indifferent. Personally, I think He gets a kick out of people who are “on fire.” Not that every person has to behave exactly the same way out of their passions, but people who are not afraid to make a commitment are folks you can enjoy being around…working around…serving with.

In Revelation 3:16, God says, “Because you are lukewarm — neither hot or cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

That gives me the idea that God doesn’t have much respect for indifference either.

A friend of mine has written a study called, I Believe: Bridging Belief with Behavior. (That friend is Dr. John Powers. ) Obviously, what we believe does directly impact how we behave. And we are not born with beliefs…we develop them throughout life. And certainly our beliefs are impacted by our environment and personal circumstances and experiences.

While it might be too bold to say that “indifference” is a by-product of unbelief, it is a sure reflection of not being confident of what you say you believe. It is indicative of the value you place on belief. And, though those who practice indifference may indeed think they are concealing something burning inside…if we take a moment to discern it all…indifference does place all of one’s fragilities, insecurities and reasons for self-protection under a microscope. God saw it…we should be able to see it too.

Look at that Revelation passage in context:

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!

16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked…”

In thinking about my friend and his situation…and recalling this passage in Revelation…I first thought, “yeh, right…I can’t stand indifference either.”

At least if a person is hot or cold…you know where they are coming from. But it’s just hard to communicate, respect and develop a trusting relationship with an “indifferent” person. (EVEN GOD is frustrated by THEM!)

“I’d never be indifferent!” I thought.

“Are you sure about that?” I heard God speak to my heart.

“Who me? Passive? Indifferent? Come on now, Lord! What are you suggesting?” I asked, innocently enough.

“What about prayer? Are you indifferent about prayer?” He asked.

“Well, I don’t mean to be. I guess I get busy sometimes…but I do enjoy prayer and talking with you.” I contended.

“Really?” the Lord replied. “Well, what about studying My Word?”

“Lord…You know I’ve told You how Your Word is always like a soothing salve to my soul. I love reading the Bible.” I said with some degree of pride.

“Yes, I remember several times that you’ve told me how much you loved My Word, and how much It meant to you… when you’ve read it after a particularly long time without reading it. Do you believe it?” He asked me.

“Your Word? Of course, I believe it. It’s TRUE! It’s TRUTH!!! How could I not believe it?” I insisted.

“Do you believe it is POWERFUL…and prayer…DO YOU BELIEVE THERE IS POWER IN PRAYER, Carole?” God asked me.

“Well, yes.” I said.

“I’m not convinced.” God said.

“Why? What do you mean? Why don’t you believe me?” I asked.

“It’s your BEHAVIOR. You seem a bit…oh I don’t know…INDIFFERENT.” He pointed out.

Ouch! God just called me out! Why would He do that?

“Because I love you!” God said. “And I can’t leave you ‘indifferent’ — not when you belong to Me…not when I’ve called you…not when My Holy Spirit indwells in you…not when this relationship We have cost Jesus His Life…not when I love you so much…not when you say you love Me, and not when there are so many others who need to know all this that you know…NOT WHEN YOU KNOW, Carole.”

“Oh my AWESOME God…How right You are. I am so sorry! I am so very sorry…Forgive me, Lord, for my indifference! Forgive me of my judgement of others. Forgive me for not recognizing that my behavior does not always line up with what I say I believe…Forgive me, of any unbelief.  Forgive me of my behavior. I am sorry, Lord.” I prayed.

I sat there and thought about this experience. I thought about my friend…and the situation he shared with me about his son and his frustration over the indifference in their relationship. And I immediately saw that just like God had called me out regarding my “indifference” — He did so because He loves me, and because it was necessary for me to draw closer to Him. He did so with extreme (and uncomfortable TRUTH), but so gently…and yet so powerfully. And I feel absolutely no “indifference” toward Him at all…I Love Him with all my heart, my soul and my might! And I say that with all the passion in my being!!!

So…I feel like I need to include one other reason why someone would choose to be “indifferent” — especially about “indifference” in general.  Because if you point a finger at someone else…there may be three other fingers pointing back at you.  Being indifferent keeps any scrutiny from coming upon your own beliefs and behaviors.

This has been long…I know. But in watching a “man on the street” segment the other day, I noticed that many people who seemed to be “unbelievers” felt like God was indifferent to them and their situations in life.

Do you think that God is indifferent?

No, I don’t either.

But as followers of Christ…as Christian parents and friends…as the salt and light in this world…WE MUST recognize that if we “believe” that we are created in the image of God…if we believe that God loves us and is NOT indifferent toward mankind…then we have no excuse — no reason — no exception for living a life of indifference.

Our behavior is absolutely indicative of our beliefs…there’s no way around it.  And “indifference” IS a behavior!

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