Summary: Where does interpersonal insensitivity come from? Ignorance, alienation from God, loss of feeling, destructive self-absorption. How can sensitivity be regained? Learn, learn Christ, let the relationship govern, be renewed.
There has been an accident. You’ve been hit hard, and you cannot lift that leg. They examine you, they flex your muscles, they look for broken bones. If the condition persists, they may stick pins into the soles of your feet. They are trying to find out whether you can feel anything. They are testing for insensitivity, because if you are past feeling, you are in trouble. If you are insensitive, you may have damaged yourself seriously. Your body will not work as it is supposed to, when sensitivity is dulled.
The world in which the first Christians lived was an insensitive world, a world in which caring for others had all but disappeared. Fully a third of the population had been enslaved. The Romans indulged themselves in whatever hurried pleasures came to mind. Their entertainments were obscene and coarse, often portraying sexual intimacies with reckless laughter. Their games were vicious and bloody, pitting grown men against each other in sports contests that quickly degenerated into blood-letting. They showed no sensitivity at all to those who were degraded by this, and either paid them off or wrote them off without a moment’s worry.
That first century world had made life a very cheap thing. They claimed to believe in marriage, but marriages were routinely abandoned. They claimed to value women, but men looked for companionship outside of marriage, and were not ashamed of it. Their worst insensitivity showed up in their treatment of children. Abortions were widespread, and when children were born, if they were weak, they were abandoned and allowed to die. Some even deliberately destroyed their female infants, or, if they allowed them to live, raised them to become prostitutes.
How unfeeling this all sounds! How incredibly callous, how cold and harsh! You say, how can people act this way? Didn’t they have any feelings? Yes, but they had lost them. Paul, in the Ephesian letter, provides a rich but succinct analysis of how people got to this point and what the consequences are. He is the master psychologist, who, with a few pen strokes, tells us about what happens when sensitivity is dulled.
Let’s bring it up to date. Let’s ask about ourselves, about now. How is it that people in our own time can be careless about one another? Don’t we have any feelings? How can someone step up and point a pistol and take another person’s life, apparently with not even a second thought? How can someone beat a small child until she is lifeless? How can anyone force women into intimacies they do not want? How can this happen? Is there nothing to stem this cold, harsh business? Is there nothing to awaken feeling, nothing to sharpen sensitivity?
I want us first to learn about what happens when sensitivity is dulled. I think it is very important that we look at Paul’s analysis.
Insensitivity begins with ignorance. Insensitivity starts with an empty mind. Sensitivity is dulled begins when someone has not learned what is right and what is wrong.
Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding,
Futility of mind means emptiness. Empty heads. Nobody home. Darkened understanding means "clouded." They understand some things, but it’s clouded. Shielded from the light. In a fog.
The Bible is telling us that there are some things that people need to know, but they do not learn them on their own. It is telling us that we start to go wrong just because we don’t know some very basic things about right and wrong. Empty heads, clouded understanding.
If you do not teach a little child what "hot" means, and that she had better not touch something hot, she’s going to get burned a few times and maybe she will be seriously hurt. But we can teach her about "hot", can’t we? We may not be able to prevent a little toddler from experimenting, but we can at least work at teaching her what "hot" is all about. Now if you do not teach someone what "wrong" means, and that he had better not do something wrong, he’s going to try it a few times, maybe lots of times. We can’t prevent people from sinning,
but we can at least teach them that some things are right and some things are wrong, and that if you do the wrong ones, you will get hurt, and so will others. Sensitivity is dulled from lack of knowledge. As the Bible says, "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge."
Have you noticed that we don’t like to get specific any more? We’re willing to teach in vague generalities about love and being nice to one another, but we don’t like to get too specific. We are afraid that somebody won’t like it. That is the beginning of disaster. Our families, our churches, our society -- all of us need to revitalize our concepts of right and wrong. We need to recognize that right is right, even if nobody is doing it, and that wrong is wrong, even if everybody is doing that. Otherwise the world will be empty heads and clouded understanding, ignorance.