My three daughters know the drill. If they want to see their papa distressed and ready to climb a wall, they just have to answer a straightforward question with a nonchalant whatever. “Would you like some salad on your plate?” A shrug, a look—“Whatever.” Whatever signals indifference, apathy, and sometimes even superiority. Whatever suggests lack of passion and interest. Whatever is one of the banner words of our time and challenges us profoundly.
In ages past (it seems at least) people walked for ideas. They marched for equality and the right to vote, or against war, nuclear weapons, and racism. Today we say whatever, shrug our collective shoulders—and return to like a friend’s two-line posting on Facebook about a restaurant with abysmal service. What happened to the passion and convictions that our Creator endowed us with and that have driven so many movements—including our own?
Before I receive a bag full of letters from passionate readers, let me clarify that whatever is not the only response I see around me—but it’s a prevalent one. My sense is that the whatever mind-set has slowly but surely crept into every facet of our culture and has infected every age group.
Here is the crucial question for the readers of the Adventist Review: has this whatever mind-set also crept into our faith community, or has it stopped dead at the threshold of our churches? Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of important issues and places where Adventists engage in passionate discussion. Think of the question of appropriate worship music or the important discussion regarding the ordination of female pastors. However, where is the passion when we think about 3 billion people who have had little or no contact with the soon-coming Savior and His good news? Or, closer to home, where is the passion for the neighbors around us who may wonder why we leave our home every Saturday morning all dressed up, yet have never heard Jesus’ loving invitation into His kingdom?
Matter of fact, there is passion in the whatever age. The rights of homosexuals seem to dominate the headlines of news and media outlets. You can find echoes of this discussion in some of our churches in North America and Europe as well. Equality and justice are the keywords of this debate. Gun control, universal health care, or the role of government are issues that are heatedly debated in our culture and have crept also into conversations around fellowship dinner tables in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Yet, I wonder—are these the causes that should dominate our hearts and minds?
What caused Jesus to be passionate—what moved Him to action? If tears mark passion, we are told of two occasions on which Jesus wept. He wept standing at the tomb of His friend Lazarus (John 11:35). He also wept as He looked at Jerusalem during His triumphal entry (Luke 19:41). In the midst of roaring applause and boisterous proclamations, Jesus stops and weeps. Anticipating the future of the city of His people, He knows about the stubbornness and pride and the sense of superiority of those who should have known. His passion leads Him to cleanse the Temple with authority. His love keeps Him on the cross. Jesus is passionate about people and salvation and the battle of which He is the centerpiece.
I dream of a community of young and old—together—that is passionate about the well-being of people around them—and I am talking about not only social engagement but eternal destiny. I pray for church leaders, lay members, theologians, pastors, and anyone else who engages others passionately, but lovingly and respectfully, even on the topics that often divide us. I wish for conversations and warm embraces and prayer meetings that bind this movement to the passion of Jesus. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, whatever will not do the trick. Whatever did not motivate Jesus to give up the five-star glory of heaven and dwell in the lowlands of earth’s history. Whatever did not drive Paul to travel the ancient world untiringly—without any frequent-flyer benefits. Passion for the lost, love for the stubborn, salvation for the erring—that’s what moved the Master and all those following in His footsteps. They should also motivate us.
Gerald Klingbeil is an associate editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published October 24, 2013.