The life and times of one John Heywood (1497 – 1580) recently caught my attention. Heywood was a fairly well known English playwright, poet and composer. He married into a very politically incorrect family for his generation and he was not at all timid about letting his social and religious views be known. Heywood supported the Church of Rome (Catholicism) during the politically unstable years of King Henry VIII’s reign, when the monarchy split from Papal authority and formed the Church of England. His wife, the former Elizabeth Rastell, was a niece of the famous Sir Thomas More who was executed for his religious beliefs which were at odds with King Henry’s new government approved church. Heywood was himself eventually forced to flee England as a result of the oppressive Acts of Uniformity.
So, why my interest in John Heywood who lived over 500 years ago? Because, among his assorted literary works we find that he penned this oft’ quoted maxim:
“There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know.”
How profound is the blindness of those who will not see. God would always have us show His mercy to the truly blind – those who for whatever reason cannot see. But what of the deluded who choose to ignore what they already know? They have eyes to understand what is right, but they shut them tightly against the truth. Let’s talk about the Comfortably Numb.
Recently, I was having lunch at an outdoor bistro in Tarpon Springs, Florida. As I was waiting for my food to be served, I could hear the conversation of a rather smart looking couple seated at the table to my left. They appeared to be in their late twenties to early thirties, dressed in casual business attire. To the best of my recollection, this is what I overheard:
Him: “What do you think about all the madness going on in this country and around the world?”
Her: “It’s, crazy! But, what can you do about it? Besides, I have my own problems to think about.”
Him: “Yea, that’s why I don’t listen to the news that much. It’s way too depressing. As long as it doesn’t affect me, not going to let it ruin my life.”
The conversation quickly shifted to their weekend plans and something about a recent rock concert.
I was somewhat surprised at how succinctly they could dismiss the sum total of today’s global madness. This world is nothing short of a remarkable and overwhelming mess, and if these two lunchtime patrons are any indication, an increasing number of people simply view the collective insanity as “somebody else’s problems.”
Of course, it would not be healthy to turn into a full time pessimist. I think we all know someone who is so obsessed with endless thoughts of doom, gloom and destruction that they are a drag to be around. But still, I see a swelling number of people growing indifferent toward wicked and deplorable occurrences in our society. Headline shock is giving way to social apathy. It’s easier to turn blind eyes to all of the depravity than to open them wide and face the truth. As long as we are relatively happy, healthy and have a few bucks in our pocket, let’s all just become comfortably numb. Or, is that uncomfortably numb? Not sure.
And what of the faith community who claim to believe in God and know his ways?
Not long ago I was invited to speak at a Sunday morning church service. I rose early to be sure I would arrive on time. As it turned out, I was the first person to show up – 10 minutes prior to the designated start time. The parking lot had only one other vehicle beside my own. No worries, a Pastor met me at the door.
“You’re early” he said, “Service will start in a few minutes.”
I’m early? Okay. I was escorted into the church hall and invited to make myself at home. Sitting in the empty room I thought, “This congregation must rush the doors in wild abandon moments before the service begins.” I sat awaiting the stampede. Well, the teeming masses never did make it. The musicians and singers eventually arrived. As the service began (20 minutes late), there were more people on the platform then in the seats. In time the room did fill quite a bit, with the last stragglers stumbling in about 35 minutes late. Most people seemed to listen as I spoke. A few thanked me on the way out. The building emptied so quickly the fire inspector would have been proud. But this is not unusual. I have just described the normal pattern in many churches today. Welcome to postmodern casual Christianity. Come as you are, whenever you like, or stay home and watch our livestream.
What did the Apostle Paul say to the Galatians? Don’t get mad at me because I tell you the truth (Galatians 4:16). I’m not being harsh or judgmental. I have been guilty of indifference now and then myself. It’s just so easy to become comfortably numb.
Little by little, over the centuries, compromise, conformity and even heathenish practices have corrupted “The Way” introduced to mankind by the Liberator Jesus. The humble simplicity of faith in God has slowly given way to human theories, pagan traditions and the doctrines of mere men.
Cloaked in a form of righteousness, but void of any true and divine power, a severely weakened and impotent Christian church has emerged to dominate the mainstream landscape of modern times. The postmodern church is fast becoming the perfect place for the comfortably numb with an atmosphere that is ripe and ready for that great leader, the man of all things nasty – Antichrist – to debut.
The Newer Testament biblical writer Paul, in his letter to the Christian community living in ancient Thessaloniki warned about the future days of the comfortably numb; a time when people would lose their faith in God. Here is what he told them,
3“Let no one in any way deceive or entrap you, for that day [the return of the Liberator Jesus] will not come unless the apostasy comes first [the great rebellion, the abandonment of the faith by professed Christians], and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction [the Antichrist].” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4)
Apostasy means to fall away from the truth. An apostate is someone who was once enlightened by the Creator of all things – the Divine Spirit (God). Apostasy is actually a rebellion against God because it is a rebellion against his revealed truth. The comfortably numb are drifting dangerously close to that slippery slope of abandonment or neglect.
The Older Testament Prophet Jeremiah tried to shake the comfortably numb of his generation. He spoke some very significant and timeless words to the people. Here is what he said,
21 ‘Hear this, O foolish people without understanding, who have eyes but do not see and who have ears but do not hear. 22 Do you not fear me?’ says the Lord … 23But these people have a strong-will and a heart that has turned against me. They have turned aside and gone away.” (Jeremiah 5:21-23)
Once, when the Liberator Jesus was here on the earth, his followers asked him, “Why do you talk to the people in parables (stories, allegories)?” He responded by telling them that they (his followers) were receptive to the insight (truth) that he came to share. Whenever someone has an open spirit, the insight (truth) and understanding can flow freely. Jesus spoke in parables as a way to create readiness, and receptiveness to the truth. But of those who will not see (the comfortably numb) he said,
13 “This is why I speak to them in picture-stories; because they go through life with their eyes open, but see nothing, and with their ears open, but understand nothing of what they hear. They are the living fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy which says: ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them’. (Matthew 13:13-15)
Whether you’ve been asleep in the light or blinded by the darkness, the result is nearly the same – you are living the delusion of the comfortably numb. It’s time to break the apathy and flee the apostasy. Open your eyes. Clean out your ears. Pay attention. The days are growing short – but, there is still time. You can still change your direction.
One last thought from the pages of the good book,
12 My friends watch out! Don’t let evil thoughts or doubts make any of you turn from the living God. 13 You must encourage one another each day. And you must keep on while there is still a time that can be called “today.” If you don’t, then sin may fool some of you and make you stubborn. 14 We were sure about Christ when we first became his people. So let’s hold tightly to our faith until the end. 15 The Scriptures say, “If you hear his voice today, don’t be stubborn like those who rebelled.” (Hebrews 3:12-15)
The Liberator Jesus is calling you. Take the time to listen. He’ll do the rest. Ask him anything, but above all, ask for his help. Right now – Just do it!
Forgive me God for allowing the worries of this world, the false glamour of materialism and all of my foolish ambitions to creep in and choke the life out of what you really want me to be. Today, I am yours once again. I surrender my flawed desires in favor of you perfect will for my life. Jesus, please help me. I want to trust you. I want to believe in you. Please show me the way and teach me your ways. Lead me to the next step. Amen