The Age of Insensitivity

By Wayne Jackson

The human soul (mind, conscience) is a sensitive thing. The tender heart can be touched, and wonderful results will be produced. On the other hand, the human spirit can be woefully mistreated and devastating attitudes thus develop.

When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he warned them of that manner of life so characteristic of pagans in his day. He described the heathen as

being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; who being past feeling gave themselves up to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness (4:18-19).

The Greek word rendered “past feeling” suggests a callousness that knows no shame or honor. Physically, some folks develop hardening of the arteries. Spiritually, in some people, the whole “heart” (conscience) becomes like flint.

A couple of weeks back I was summoned for possible jury duty. Our group was ushered up to the court room where, prior to the selection process, the judge explained the facts of the case. A middle-age man (a student counselor) had been charged with soliciting a prostitute and resisting arrest. He had pled “not guilty” and wanted a jury trial.

Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney began interrogating the prospective jurors (I was not selected to be among them). Each of them explored this question: “What is your attitude toward prostitution?”

Stunned, I sat there as the potential jurors, one after another, said such things as: “Well, I don’t have a view on this, one way or the other.” “Oh, I think it’s a victimless crime.” “If no one gets hurt, what’s the harm?” One woman did say it was “yucky,” while another opined it was “disgusting.”

I couldn’t avoid thinking of Jeremiah’s observation concerning many in ancient Israel. “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush” (6:15).

Many people in this beloved nation have become so insensitive to sin, that virtually no form of perversion is worthy of their scorn.

Our nation was shocked recently at the massacre that occurred in Colorado (see our May 3, 1999 article, Killer Kids). Generally speaking, there was a great outpouring of sympathy for the families of the victims of that tragedy.

Some students, however, suggested that the young murderers had been teased or harassed by fellow-students; they came very close to suggesting that the slain students may have deserved what they got!

To further illustrate the gross callousness of our time, Howard Stern, one of those popular “shock” DJs, wondered aloud on his radio program (the day following the shootings, no less) why the young Littleton murderers, if they were going to commit suicide, did not “have sex” with some of the “good-looking girls” on campus before they killed themselves!

Though there was some outrage over this stupid and insensitive remark, how many of Stern’s sponsors will have the courage to drop him? A few, but probably not many. Soon it likely will be “business as usual.”

“Who can all sense of others’ ills escape, is but a brute, at best, in human shape” (Juvenal).

Is it possible to become so immune to evil that we view it stoically—with a mere shrug of the shoulders? Is it possible to get beyond shock?

Paul once spoke of those whose consciences were “seared as with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:2, KJV). The Greek word rendered “seared” (“branded,” ASV) is kausteriazo, the basis of our English term “cauterize.” The word literally means, as reflected in the ASV, to burn with a glowing iron.

Bible expositors have attempted to explain the metaphor in two ways:

  1. In ancient times the forehead of a slave was branded. The suggestion of the context thus would be: false teachers essentially bear the “brand” impress of Satan, reflecting the fact they are owned by him.
  2. Perhaps a more-likely meaning is this: self-deception and insensitivity to sin deadens the soul. One can “nurse” wickedness—let it flourish in the human spirit long enough—until a point is reached where one is not at all bothered by personal sin, nor has he any remnant of compassion for others.

How sad it is that many in this country appear to have reached that level of depravity.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.