Don’t Ask What Your Country Can Do For You; Ask What You Can Do For Your Country


The words of this quotation are familiar to all of us. They were spoken with a “Bostonian twang” in January of the year 1961 and are found in the inaugural address of the late President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. Whatever this has to do with a Beacon Lights editorial is undoubtedly the question in your minds. The editorial has nothing to do with our late President.

But let us begin at the beginning of the story so that we can understand what prompted the undersigned to entitle this month’s editorial with J. F. K.’s famous words. Our story begins on a balmy spring day in April. The editor had just been dismissed from his classes with Rev. H. Hoeksema in the Seminary. Classes were dismissed early so the student decided to walk to Calvin College (two short blocks east of Fuller Ave. Church) in order to browse around for a short time in the College Bookstore.

These plans were thwarted when he happened upon one of the Prot. Ref. Pastors also out for a stroll. The minister had something weighing heavily on his mind and wished to know the editor’s opinion of the matter.

It seems that some of our young people are afflicted with apathy in re: the affairs of the church and in particular the Young People’s Society. Now apathy is a very serious disease. It is, in fact, if left unhindered, deadly. The word apathy comes from a Greek word which literally means “not suffering”. Hence, its derived English meaning is “want of feeling” or “indifference” toward something; applied to the affairs of the Church or Young People’s society to be apathetic means to be indifferent toward them. In other words, we are talking about spiritual apathy and spiritual apathy is indeed a most serious disease.

The minister’s question was what can we as ministers, society leaders and others in a position to lead the young people do to combat this deadly disease? Then came to mind the famous quotation of J. F. K. only with one word changed. Thus altered we get: “Don’t ask what your society can do for you; ask what you can do for your society”. The problem is not what the society is or is not doing, but what you its member are or are not doing. Oh, yes, it is true we can do nothing by ourselves for God, operating from the principle of the new life in Christ we can and do. As such the Lord admonishes and exhorts us in His Word to walk in His ways, to put off the unfruitful works of darkness, to be holy, etc. And the unmistakable fact remains that no society is more alive than any of its individual members. The society as a whole is afflicted with apathy only to the degree that the individuals who make up that society, are apathetic. Need more be written; the implications are plain are they not? If your society is sick, maybe it’s because you are!

What are some of the symptoms of apathy? Perhaps we can best observe the symptoms by examining three individuals who are afflicted with the disease. Perhaps they are familiar to you; their names are: John Van Hasty, George Van Donothing, and Molly Van Doesnotspeakup. John Van Hasty appears to be very healthy and active. It is sometimes rather difficult to detect John’s apathy, but it has been definitely found. John, one month ago, was given an assignment to compose a reading for the society “after-recess” program. He readily complied. At last week’s meeting of “Young Peoples” John gave a short, poorly done reading which benefited the society little. Many again went home dissatisfied and disgusted. Van Hasty, you see, had given no time—though he had had a whole month—to the preparation of his paper. He was apathetic and therefore the entire society suffered.

George Van Donothing’s case is very similar. In a way George’s type of apathy isn’t quite as bad as John’s. George at least makes no attempt to cover it up. When George was asked to take part in a panel discussion, he simply said, for no good reason: “No thanks, I’d rather not.”

The third case-study involves Molly Van Doesnotspeakup. Her case is very simple. She faithfully attends every meeting (even when the high school has a basketball game!). She converses with her friends during the few minutes preceding society. From the time of opening prayer, however, to closing prayer she says NOTHING. Her only reaction to the discussion is an occasional benign smile accompanied by an almost indiscernible nod of the head. Her only contribution is her presence.

Though the above cited examples are three distinct cases of the disease, they do have one thing in common. They are severe critics of their Young People’s Society. One hears such things as: “The minister does all the talking” (this is Molly’s favorite remark after society); or “It’s always that certain few who get to do everything” (George’s comment); or “Sure have lousy programs in society—wish we could do something interesting once” (John’s gripe).

Is your society boring, uninteresting or listless? Perhaps it’s because of you. Do you fit into any of the above examples? Again let it be repeated; the society as a whole is afflicted with apathy only to the degree that its individual members are.

Let’s be honest, confess our faults and seek God’s grace in order that we may live as those who are thankful to God for the victory given us through our Lord Jesus Christ. Then we shall heed the admonition of God’s Word found in I Cor. 15:58: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmovable, always (italics mine, R.D.) abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

The ones who by grace heed that admonition do not and never will have that horrible sickness, apathy.