Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

March 4, 2012


A plea for more passion and less aloofness


      If you have attended a few funerals you have probably heard a pastor quote a passage of scripture that begins with this verse:  “For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven.”

The source is the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, chapter three. The verse quoted is the first of eight verses in which the author tells us there is a time for everything under the sun: “a time to be born and a time to die,” etc.  The author may have been Solomon but modern scholars tell us we had best just call him “The Preacher.” So I will.

      This familiar passage of scripture has never been one of my favorites. It is certainly true. One cannot argue with the writer’s observations. But what bothers me is the Preacher’s attitude; there is no passion, enthusiasm or hope. What we have here is stoicism.  

      Life is bland enough so why make it worse by being detached or indifferent? Lecture me if you must about the virtue of stoicism – how we can find peace by mastering our emotions. I am not persuaded. Life without passion is like having to sip lukewarm water when you could have delicious hot tea.   

      Detachment may work for some people but for me rigid indifference is deplorable. There is enough apathy in the world; what we need is more passion. The vast number of hurting people in the world will never find solace in the aloofness of their neighbors.  

      People who are truly alive find it difficult to remain indifferent to the pain of others. Albert Schweitzer was asked why he chose to live as a missionary doctor in impoverished Africa. He replied, “There is a great load of pain in the world and I decided that I must get under my share of that pain.”

      A Christian oncologist advised his nursing staff: “You were not hired for your ability but for your attitude. You are here not to earn a paycheck but to serve our patients and to do so with compassion.” He made it clear that he judged the effectiveness of his nurses by their ability to deliver compassion to their patients.

      Moderation or self-control is a good thing; it can be a blessing in many ways. We all need more of it. Yet restraint can lead to boredom if we are not careful. The Preacher tells us, without feeling, that there is a time to be born and a time to die. But passionate questions emerge when we probe the meaning of our birth and our death.  Why were we born? What is the purpose of life? What happens when we die? Is the grave the end? How do we deal with the dread of death?

      These burning questions demand answers. And when we search for answers the Preacher shrugs his shoulders and says, “Who knows?” That offers us little help. But if we read on we come to someone in the Bible who does with passion offer us answers to our burning questions. That someone is Jesus Christ.  

What a contrast to the Preacher of Ecclesiastes! Jesus is not aloof! His words are powerful and challenging:  “Follow me;” “Go into all the world;” “Your sins are forgiven;” “Seek and you will find;” “Love your enemies;” “Bless those who curse you;” “Stretch out your hand;” “Rise up and walk.” As you read the gospels you realize that Jesus was a man of passion, emotion, conviction, and enthusiasm.  And he is the perfect model for the way we should live!

      The Preacher does help us to consider the fleeting nature of time. While we are alive, we have a certain amount of time. We are not sure how much; we know that our time is limited and that eventually it will run out. We can allow that to motivate us to make the best use possible of the time we have. We can remember that any time is always the right time to do the right thing and to use our time wisely. 

      If we have become lethargic and indifferent, while there is time we can flee from aloofness and come alive!  We can resist stoicism and begin to care deeply about the hurting people around us. We may not be able to imitate Jesus but we can try!  Like Schweitzer we may find new enthusiasm for life when we make an honest effort to shoulder our share of the world’s pain. + + +