by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
CGG Weekly, August 22, 2003
"The depreciation of Christianity by indifference is a more insidious and less curable evil than infidelity itself."
I have always liked words, though they are nothing in themselves but symbols of meanings. For instance, the spoken word "cat" is merely a collection of sounds that we make with our lungs, throats, tongues, palates, teeth, and lips. Our brains, however, understand these sounds as a carnivorous mammal with certain characteristics that mark it as part of the Felidae family. The written letters c-a-t tell us the same thing visually.
Words also have histories, and maybe this is why I enjoy them so much. Words and their meanings mutate over time, sometimes strangely, sometimes predictably, sometimes strikingly. For instance, we use buckles almost daily on belts, shoes, cars, and various other places. However, the original Latin word, buccula, means "little cheek"; the Romans used this word to describe the cheek-piece of a soldier's helmet. The French borrowed it as boucle, applying it, however, to the boss of a shield (a "cheek-like" protuberance on a shield's face). Later, the English—perhaps because of the necessity to tighten and bind the leather straps used in holding the shield—gave it its modern meaning as a fastener, primarily for belts.
These days, though, the three words in the title of this essay possess a great deal of meaning to Christians in an increasingly secular and downright immoral world. This adjectival trio describes steps in the process of hardheartedness that is so damaging to character.
Inured comes down to us from French and Latin. The French phrase en ure means "in operation" or "in employment" (we can see ure in such words as "manure" and "maneuver," both of which originally meant "to work with the hand," thus "to till or cultivate"). Ultimately, inured derives from the Latin word opera, which means "to work." However, because of the habitual and sometimes despised nature of work, inured has come to mean "accustomed to accepting something undesirable." For example, Christians have become inured to television's anti-Christian bias.
Calloused also descends from Latin (callus) through French (calleux), but its meaning has hardly changed. It means "hard-skinned." A person develops calluses on his palms when he works them vigorously. When I was little, the skin on my Uncle Bob's hands always impressed me. He was a bricklayer, and after handling thousands—maybe millions—of bricks throughout his career, his palms and fingers were rough, thick, and hard. A human heart can develop similar calluses. A calloused person, however, is a step beyond an inured one. He has become so used to the degradations and abominations around him that his heart has formed a shell to keep them at bay.
Apathetic, unlike the other two words, derives directly from Greek with little or no change. It is formed by a- ("not") and pathos ("feeling" or "suffering") and simply means "unfeeling" or "without feeling." An apathetic person is indifferent and unconcerned. Once a Christian reaches the point of apathy regarding the sins of his society, he is precariously close to losing his salvation. He no longer cares how terribly far morals and standards have slid. He has become so accustomed to the gutter that he no longer cares that he lives there.
Ezekiel 9 records the prophet's vision of the marking of those "who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done" (Ezekiel 9:4) and the slaying of all those who do not (Ezekiel 9:5-7). God explains to Ezekiel, "The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great, and the land is full of bloodshed, and the city full of perversity; for they say, 'The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see!'" (Ezekiel 9:9). What does it mean to "sigh and cry"?
The Hebrew word for "sigh" is 'ânah, which means "to sigh, groan, or gasp." The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament comments, "Ezekiel's references point to exercise of heart on the part of those who sighed over Israel's desperate spiritual condition." "Cry" is translated from 'ânaq, which literally means "to shriek" but is used of crying, groaning, or lamenting. These nearly identical sounding words mean much the same thing. The difference is that sighing is inward, while crying is an outward expressing of our inner grief.
Are we saddened to see what has become of our country and its people? Do we "cry out" against the ravages of sin among our family and friends? Or, sadly, have we become inured to it, calloused by constant contact with it, or even apathetic about it? If Ezekiel 9 is any indication, it is time to let God know where we stand.