Affluenza and Apathy

January 16th, 2014

Last summer a 16-year-old Texas boy stole some beer, drank it with his buddies, then—with his blood-alcohol level way above the legal limit—got behind the wheel of his Ford F-350. The young man’s indiscretions led to an accident that resulted in the deaths of four pedestrians and left a passenger in his car paralyzed. But the teen, who confessed to intoxicated manslaughter, likely won’t see the inside of a jail cell. A judge sentenced him to ten years of probation and mandatory time in an alcohol treatment facility. It was a mild punishment compared to the twenty years in state custody asked for by the prosecution.

The young man’s lawyers argued that their client suffered from "affluenza." Because the boy had been raised by wealthy but apathetic parents, he’d grown to believe that he could get away with anything and lacked the maturity to consider the consequences of his decisions. The legal team argued that, as a child of privilege whose parents placed few restrictions on him, their client could not be held accountable for the deaths he caused and should not be tried and sentenced as though he had understood the repercussions of his actions. His parents’ money and apathy was both the reason the young man behaved so irresponsibly and the reason he should receive a light sentence.

Family members of those who died as a result of his decision to drive while intoxicated said that, as Christians, they forgave the young man. But they also believed he hadn’t had to face the full weight and consequences of his actions.

Grace and Growth

As Christians we are people of grace. We know that Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection, made atonement for our sins and defeated death so that we could have eternal life. Our salvation is a gift. It isn’t something that we have to work for or earn. Still, if we aren’t careful, we can act as if our salvation provides a free pass on sinful behavior. But grace is more than a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Christ not only saves us from sin and death but also saves us for a life of discipleship. Salvation isn’t a one-time experience—it is ongoing. We grow in grace, and we grow in relationship to God. The apostle Paul explained that, through Christ, we have freedom. This freedom comes with responsibility (see Galatians 5:13-15). We are instructed not to use this freedom selfishly but to respond to this gift of freedom by living lives of love and gratitude. Jesus compared himself to a vine and us to branches (see John 15:1-8). As branches, we can only grow and bear fruit if we remain connected to the vine. When we take God’s grace for granted and live as though Christ has given us a free pass, we stop growing and fail to produce fruit.

Challenges and Character

The young man’s legal team argued that their client should receive a light sentence not only because his parents provided him with a life of privilege but also because his parents were apathetic toward him. While God gives us considerable blessings and privileges, many of which we too often overlook, God is never apathetic. God is invested in our lives; God desires a relationship with each one of us; and God has big plans and expectations for how we use the gifts with which God has blessed us. Instead of taking for granted all that God has given us and living life as though we have a free pass, we can live lives of gratitude by seeking to do God’s will and growing in relationship with God.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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