LCN Article

The Danger of Becoming Desensitized

January / February 2019

Gerald Weston

Dear Brethren,

God has made the human race very adaptable. During the summer of 1966, three of us from Ambassador College traveled to Oregon to work for the Forest Service, specifically in Timber Stand Improvement—a fancy title for thinning the forest. Certain trees were marked with blue paint, and we were to leave them and cut down all other trees unless they were above a certain size. But larger trees marked with red paint were also to be cut down. The idea was to space out the trees, allowing them to grow faster. I would love to see the results of our labor from 52 years ago!

Our housing arrangements were primitive. We rented a small house in town for $40 per month, and used it on the Sabbath to “get off the ground” and take our weekly shower. The rest of the time, we lived in tents. Each week we transported 25 gallons of water to our remote campsite for drinking, cooking, and dishwashing—not enough for bathing. We were paid ten dollars per acre of thinned forestry, so speed and hustle were essential. We sweated profusely from the summer heat and hard work. To say that we were dirty by the end of the week is a bit of an understatement. Sweat, chainsaw oil, and wood chips were ground into our clothes and bodies.

Not one of us grew up in such conditions. We were all used to bathing daily, and to tossing dirty clothes into a basket for Mom to wash, iron, fold, and put into our dresser drawers. But we adapted quickly to the circumstances in which we found ourselves. That experience taught me how easy it is to “adapt downward” within a short period of time.

Adaptability is a helpful trait when a situation requires it, but it can also lead to complacency. Why make fundamental changes when you can simply adjust and “adapt” in order to maintain a comfortable status quo? We can easily adapt to accommodate even dramatic changes around us, even if we do so grudgingly at first.

Over the past five decades, the world has changed drastically. We knew from Scripture that the Israelite nations would descend into sin and fall at the end of the age. We knew that humanity’s sins would grow worse and worse, but few imagined how bad things would become. We read of Israel being likened to Sodom and Gomorrah, but never guessed that same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ+ movement would grow so large, infiltrating all levels of education, even grade school. Who could have foreseen drag queens reading to toddlers?

The downside of adaptability is that it is not limited to physical circumstances. We also adapt to the social and moral cultures that surround us. We are at first incensed by each new depravity, but over time, we get tired of hearing about it and become desensitized. In the end, some actually accept and defend the depraved behavior, becoming allies of sinful conduct. This is what Paul understood when he described aberrant behaviors, condemning those “who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).

Those who died twenty, or even ten years ago would be shocked to see today’s immorality. Are we equally shocked? Have we adapted and become desensitized? Have we gone so far as to defend immoral behavior?

We must never get to a place where we “approve of those who practice” immorality as defined by the only source capable of making that determination: the word of God (John 17:17; Romans 7:7). At the same time, we must never forget that Christ paid sin’s penalty for everyone who repents and accepts His sacrifice, and His compassion includes those who live in a very miserable state of sin. Remember what Jesus said regarding the self-righteous and stiff-necked cities in which He performed mighty miracles: “But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:24). See also Matthew 10:15, where He includes Gomorrah with Sodom in a similar statement. As true Christians, we must speak the truth while treating all sinners respectfully.

Human adaptability is necessary for our well-being, as we sometimes find ourselves in less than ideal conditions. However, right and wrong do not change, and we must guard against adapting and becoming desensitized to sinful behaviors. This is one of the great lessons of the Days of Unleavened Bread. Corinth was one of the most immoral cities in the first-century Roman Empire, and gross immorality surrounded the members of the Church of God who lived there—desensitizing them to such a point that, by their actions, they defended a man’s co-habitation with his stepmother. They gloried in their tolerance of his behavior. Note Paul’s strong rebuke: “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians 5:6). The culture around us rubs off on us!

I have puzzled over God’s description of the final Church era. He describes it as dominated by those who are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot (Revelation 3:15). Would not one expect His people to recognize end-time society’s moral degradation, and the prophecies being fulfilled before their eyes? Would this not cause them to be spiritually on fire?

Such is not the case for many. The Bible predicts the opposite sort of reaction, and those predictions are coming true today. This does not mean that you personally cannot be on fire and zealous, but simply that these qualities do not represent the most common attitude within the broader Church of God during the end times.

The problem is that Laodiceans are blind to their condition. They see themselves as rich and in need of nothing. “Rich” may be applied both physically and spiritually, and having physical wealth may fool some into believing that they are spiritually flourishing.

William Ramsay described the city of Laodicea as “The City of Compromise.” He went on to write, “In the tendency of the Laodiceans towards a policy of compromise he [John] would probably see a tendency towards toleration and allowance.… The very characteristics which made Laodicea a well-ordered, energetic and pushing centre of trade, seemed to him to evince a coldness of nature that was fatal to the highest side of human character, the spirit of self-sacrifice and enthusiasm” (The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, pp. 413, 419–20).

These descriptions were the opinion of a historian who did not understand what we understand. He saw the book of Revelation as merely the work of a man, but his knowledge of geography, history, and the Scriptures gave him insight that is worthy of our attention. The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia was published in 1904, prior to the beginning of the Philadelphian and Laodicean eras of the Church.

Humans must be able to adapt, but the tendency to become desensitized to sin poses a grave danger. It cost Lot’s wife her life (Luke 17:31–32), and while Lot himself is called righteous (2 Peter 2:7), the culture around him had a negative impact on his own behavior as well (Genesis 19:4–8).

We, too, are influenced by the society around us. Do we understand the cost of compromising with it? Christ tells us, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (Revelation 3:16). We can even be in danger of becoming desensitized to this warning, so let us diligently seek God as the world around us descends into Sodom and Gomorrah!

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