The Paris attacks last year brought out an overwhelming wave of virtual sympathy and digital support for the French people.  Facebook was plastered with French flags over profile pictures.  The attacks in Belgium a few weeks later brought out less public support.  Attacks in Istanbul were virtually unnoticed recently, and now the attacks in Nice are also slipping by without any virtual attention.

I remember the first time I read Orwell’s 1984, wondering to myself how a population could be so easily manipulated, so easily numbed to the machinations of their leaders.  The enemy one week is the ally the following week and nobody seems to notice.  Orwell had a keen understanding for the human capacity for numbness.  To say that we acclimate or acculturate is too mild.  We grow numb.  There are limits to our emotional reserves and the depths of our moral outrage.  After a while, they’re exhausted and we plod along unable to respond and halfway ignorant to the atrocities around us.  A form of PTSD without bombs, perhaps?

We are numbed both to terrible things around us – the outrageous lies and frauds foisted upon us by political leaders who are well aware that they will no longer be held accountable for their blatant misdeeds – as well as to good things around us.  Christians accustomed to the cultural acceptance of Scriptural truths have been numbed over decades and centuries – at least in our country.  We presume that the Bible is true because culture accepts it and reinforces it.  But now that culture is no longer doing this, suddenly there are generations of Christians who are no longer certain that the Biblical truths are just that.  The biggest challenge (for the moment) is in the area of sexuality and gender.

With a complicit culture this never needed to be questioned – of course sexuality and gender were God-ordained and defined.  Of course people who, for whatever reason did not fit those definitions, were misguided or worse.  Of course God’s Word meant what it said.  But now that culture is in revolt, insisting that gender and sexuality are self-defined, that we are free to identify ourselves in myriad ways that are not linked in any way to our bodies or traditional definitions, many Christians struggle.  Maybe God’s Word is in error?  Maybe God misspoke?  Maybe God’s eternal truth isn’t so eternal, but rather a condition of certain eras and situations?  Maybe those truths don’t apply to us in a culture that now permits or even insists on active disobedience to those truths?

Jesus understood the cultural numbness that is inevitable in one way or another over time.  His repeated clashes with the religious authorities was to shake them from their numbness to God’s intentions in his revealed Word, to show them what God had always intended to do.  The numbed can get rather violent when their numbness is disturbed.  Likewise, as Orwell asserted, those who benefit from the numbness of the masses can get rather violent when that numbness is disrupted.

Numbness is hard to see.  Hard to recognize, at least if the numbness in others matches our own numbness.  When numbness is disturbed we are likely to find ourselves angry and violent, and we can expect others around us (and above us) to be angry and violent.  I may not be aware of the nature of my numbness and I may be astounded by the anger in myself and others.  I may be guilty or the victim of the violence that results from disruption.  My hope must remain in the God who gave us his Word – even when that Word is inconvenient or no longer widely respected.  My trust must remain there, the only place where the anchor holds fast despite numbness and manipulation.


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