When Hope is Thin

Photo by IB Wira Dyatmika

Last Sunday my wife and I led our church’s middle school group.  We talked about apathy—the “Who cares?” response to situations or people around us, and sometimes our response to God.

Apathy can be a sneaky experience.  It drips its way into our conversations like a leaky faucet, and can eventually lead to an overflowing sink of “Whatevers” and blank stares.  As one student pointed out in our discussion, after a while it’s just easier to give up when you get a “whatever” response over and over from others, so you start to live into that same apathetic rut.  It just takes too much energy to care.

In catching up on some recently-saved links this week, I reviewed a report on teens who expect that they will die young—1 in seven, according to a recent study at the University of Minnesota published in Pediatrics.  I haven’t read the full journal article, but according to the review summary, teens who believe they will die young (specifically, have a 50/50 chance of living to their 35th birthday) are significantly more likely to participate in high risk behaviors one and six years later.  Risk behaviors found to be increased include illicit drug use, suicide attempts, fighting, and unsafe sexual activity.  Further, kids believing they might die young were significantly more likely to have contracted HIV/AIDS six years later.

If I were to sum up these findings, I’d say these kids suffer from thin hope.  One of the study’s researchers notes, “These youth may take risks because they feel hopeless and figure that not much is at stake.”  If not much is at stake…why not? Enter apathy of the most destructive kind.  I think it’s the kind of thing Jesus was referring to when he talked about an enemy whose strategy is to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). These kids buy the lie that their lives don’t matter, and from there it’s a short walk to destructive responses.

God has a response to kids’ apathy. James 5:10-11 echoes the Old Testament refrain, “God is full of compassion and mercy.”  Or as The Message translates it, “God cares, cares right down to the last detail.”  God’s compassion never fails.  God never responds, “Who cares?” or “Whatever.”  God meets us in places where hope is thin and breathes new life. This is my hope for kids—the kids in our middle school ministry and the kids in this study—that apathy would give way to hope, that God’s compassion would stir up a new passion for living into the shalom-wholeness God hopes for each of us.