Wake Up!: The Crisis of the Caring Conscience
By Tom Gilson
Wake up! Everyone is telling everyone to wake up. Wake up to the desperate plight of Christians in Iraq! Wake up to religious freedoms being trampled under in the West! Wake up to the horrors of sex trafficking! Wake up to the crisis at our borders! Wake up to institutional racism that just keeps hanging on! Wake up to the unending murder of babies in the womb! It goes on and on, doesn’t it?
Do you ever get worn out from all these wake-up calls?
If so, I admit it: I’m partly to blame. When I said “everyone wants everyone to wake up,” that first “everyone” included me. I’m working to help specialists in the field of Christian apologetics wake up to the real needs of the church, and the church to wake up to the importance of apologetics. BreakPoint is partly to blame, too: Google finds more than 1,600 instances of “wake up” here on breakpoint.org.
But these are real concerns. I’m not talking about oddball alarms, like one I found that said, “Democracy is anti-Christian: Christians need to wake up.” I’m talking about truly pressing problems, each one of them an issue I care about, or would, if I could summon the energy. The effort can be exhausting, though.
Look, I need some rest. Would someone please turn off the Internet for me?
This is the crisis of the caring conscience. How can I wake up to everything I know I should wake up to, when there’s too much to stay awake for?
I don’t mean to overdramatize it. The word “crisis” originally meant “decisive turning point,” the moment of decision between better or worse, good or evil. There are better and worse ways to handle the pain that confronts us. Not surprisingly, they have better or worse outcomes.
Allowing Ourselves To Be Overwhelmed
The other day I was talking with a new friend of mine, formerly a pastor but now ministering with mentally impaired persons who have been judged to be dangerous to themselves and/or others, and are therefore confined inside a locked facility. They get released, he said, but they come back, over and over again. The dominant feeling he senses among the staff is emotional burnout: “Oh, just lock them up. Who cares? They’re not going to get any better anyway.” My friend was struggling against adopting that attitude that in his own heart.
It’s wrong to be uncaring, yet empathy is hard to sustain when you’re under a continuing onslaught of overwhelmingly difficult problems. One way to avoid being drowned in the undertow of pain, grief, and fear is by hiding your heart from the wind and the waves where it’s all surging. I suspect that’s the most common way men and women protect themselves from being overwhelmed. The great problem with it is that there’s only one way to hide one’s heart from others’ pain, grief, and fear: by hiding it from other people, building a wall between ourselves and others, or rather, building a wall around our own hearts.
That couldn’t possibly be the way of love, though. It’s certainly not the example Jesus Christ set. What can we do, then, when we’re overwhelmed?
I suggest that we let it happen: that we let ourselves be overwhelmed, in fact, even more so…
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