The Lookout | 3.13.11
By Alan Dowd

We hear it all the time in our self-absorbed, apathetic, detached world. “Whatever!”Teenagers say it, with a melodramatic roll of the eyes, to their parents. Parents say it, with a weary wave of the hands, to their kids.

At its best, it’s a verbal way of shrugging the shoulders. But at its worst, it’s dismissive, unfeeling, selfish and cold—a person’s way of saying, “I don’t really care about you or what you’re saying. I’m going to do things my way.” And sadly, it has come to reflect our time and place in history.

But the reality is that God’s people have always lived in a “whatever world.” Think about it: Cain’s terse, smart-aleck rejoinder to God—“Am I my brother’s keeper?”—was just another way of saying, with a shrug, “Whatever.”

Our challenge, as God’s people, is to live, grow and somehow thrive in this “whatever world”—and to invite those around us to rise and reach beyond the apathy. The good news is that God’s word has given us a whole bunch of examples of men and women who lived in this “whatever world” and yet didn’t succumb to it.

Rising Above

Genesis describes a time when the earth was “corrupt” and “full of violence” (Genesis 5). With lawless corporations, government graft, terrorism and wars dominating today’s news, Genesis sounds oddly and sadly familiar.

Yet Noah and his family somehow rose above the mess around them. Scripture tells us he was “a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time.” But how? How could Noah stay on the right track in the anything-goes, whatever world of his day?

Scripture provides the answer. “He walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6).

It’s simple to understand but hard to do, especially when the world around you is a mess. But Noah did it, and God helped him do it. God saw his goodness and righteousness, and so He protected Noah from the inevitable consequences of the sinful world around him.

In Noah’s day, the consequence of sinfulness, of saying “Whatever!” to God, was a flood that wiped away civilization itself. In our day, the consequences may be financial upheaval that wipes away a lifetime of savings or STDs that bring a lifetime of sickness. The good news is that in Noah’s day, as in ours, God’s desire is to renew and redeem us—all of us.

Of course, we humans have short memories and easily drift back into the ways of the “whatever world.” Abraham lived in such a world. The people around him believed in many gods or no gods at all. They believed that pleasure was the sole aim of life. They believed that timeless rules of wrong and right didn’t apply to them. And in the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, we catch a glimpse of where such selfishness and self-indulgence leads: to depravity and ultimately to destruction.

But again, God showed in his dialogue with this righteous man that His desire is to preserve and protect the righteous. God can and will save a city, a country, a world throbbing with evil for the sake of just ten righteous people.

Why? Perhaps it’s because God knows that through even one righteous man, He can change the “whatever world” into something perfect. Indeed, what He started in Abraham, He continues in us and will one day complete in Jesus.

Open to God

The world Moses knew was very much a “whatever world.” In Moses’ day, human life—though created in God’s very image—was considered completely expendable. Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn Hebrew males to keep his army of slaves manageable. Those that survived, he simply worked to death.

But God heard his people’s cries and raised up Moses to lead them out of slavery. Why Moses? After all, we know that Moses was not always a righteous man. In fact, he even lived part of his life in pharaoh’s might-makes-right “whatever world.”

What set Moses apart was his humility. “Moses was a very humble man,” as Numbers explains, “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12). And that made all the difference. When the God of the universe revealed a glimpse of eternity to Moses, it exposed a humble heart, a heart soft enough to change, a heart malleable enough to make room for God, a heart open to God’s direction.

Speaking through Moses, God challenged His people to rise above the “whatever world” with words that are just as apt today as they were when Moses shared them: “Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong” (Exodus 23).

Many years later, another child of God who lived in a “whatever world” heeded those words.

Mordecai, we are told in the Book of Esther, was ordered to kneel before a royal official named Haman, “for the king had commanded this” (Esther 3). But Mordecai didn’t follow the crowd—or perhaps more accurately, he couldn’t. Mordecai understood that Haman didn’t deserve this sign of respect, as proven by Haman’s own behavior. Driven by hate and conceit, Haman persuaded the oblivious King Xerxes to issue a death sentence against Mordecai and his people. “Do with the people as you please,” Xerxes declared, in effect telling Haman to do whatever he wants.

In response, Mordecai, a man of duty and faith, traded in his garments for sackcloth, began to intercede for his people and ultimately persuaded Esther to do what was right rather than what was easy. His words still pierce our hearts: “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

Mordecai and Esther showed that when God’s people follow their hearts, He can do great things, even in a “whatever world.”

Back to Life

If our “whatever world” is marked by selfishness and self-absorption, then Mary could relate.

Herod was so poisoned and controlled by selfishness that he ordered hundreds of children executed in a mad attempt to eliminate any threat to his power.

As to self-absorption, not many people cared about Mary and her baby. In fact, a nameless innkeeper couldn’t even find a room for Joseph and the very-pregnant Mary. So the savior of mankind, the Son of God, would be born in a trough used to feed animals.

Sure, a few shepherds and some star-gazing kings from the East took notice. But the rest of the world just shrugged and said, “Whatever.”

Mary didn’t care. She knew God had great plans, and she let Him worry about seeing them through. She knew that she was nothing more than a vessel for Christ.

When we do that—if we do that—God does the rest. And a little piece of our “whatever world” is brought back to life.

Of course, we won’t complete the full work of redeeming and reclaiming our “whatever world.” That won’t happen until Jesus returns to put everything back in place. Until then, we should do our best to plant seeds, taking comfort in the notion that the world basically said “Whatever!” to Jesus himself.

It’s difficult to believe but it’s true: When Jesus revealed deep spiritual truths to his followers, John reports that many disciples “turned back and no longer followed him” (John 6). Pilate ended his dramatic dialogue with Jesus by washing his hands, sending Jesus to Golgotha and shrugging.

There’s a hard but hopeful lesson in that for us. If Jesus wasn’t able to break through all the selfishness of this “whatever world,” then we shouldn’t be surprised or discouraged when we fail. When we encounter apathy, when the world around us—the workplace, the schoolroom, the courthouse, the television, the neighbor—snidely says, “Whatever!” we should remember what God’s people have always done. And we should learn from them.

Like Noah, we need to keep walking with God.

Like Abraham, we need to strive for what’s good and intercede for the lost, while trusting that God’s decisions are perfect and just.

Like Moses, we need to choose humility, to put it on like a warm sweater that protects us from a cold, unfeeling world.

Like Mordecai and Esther, we need to do what’s right, even when the “whatever world” laughs at us or ignores us or attacks us.

Like Mary, each of us needs to accept that special role, that unique mission, God has given us—no matter how great or small.

And like Jesus, we need to share truth and love with those around us, even when they turn away, trusting that some seeds will fall on good soil and revive a little patch of our “whatever world.”