Hedonic adaptation — our tendency to return to the same level of happiness regardless of what happens to us — is a gift. It allows us to endure hard things and still find peace despite the hardships of life.
But it’s also a challenge. Sometimes we take things for granted that should continue to amaze us. Hedonic adaptation is one of the reasons we read passages of Scripture and shrug, why we sing some of the amazing songs of the faith (“Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, should die for me?”) without feeling amazement at the words. It’s how we eat and drink at the Lord’s Table without feeling overcome by what we’re experiencing.
The fight for spiritual health is the fight against hedonic adaptation. We must never let profound truths become mundane truths that fail to move our souls.
Scripture addresses this problem. Hebrews 2:1 and 3 say, “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it … How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”
Drifting and neglect seem like such strong words. We may be tempted to think that these are things that other people do, people who are farther gone spiritually than we are.
We’re all in danger of drifting and neglecting.
George Guthrie explains:
The word used here (pararuomai) could signify objects that slip away, such as a ring that slips off the finger, or objects that go in the wrong direction, such as a piece of food that goes into the windpipe. Perhaps the image closer to our author’s intention in this passage is that of a ship drifting, missing a harbor it intended to enter because of strong currents or winds.
Neglect can mean something close to Ignore. Guthrie writes that means to “neglect through apathy or not to care enough about something (1 Tim. 4:14).”
That’s exactly what happens when we begin to take for granted the amazing truths of the gospel: we drift. We start to move in the wrong direction. We neglect the things of God through apathy. We simply don’t care.
The consequences are deadly. “How shall we escape?” the author asks. This is no small matter. Our souls are at stake.
Preventing Drifting and Neglect
How do we avoid this danger?
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it,” we read in Hebrews 2:1.
The solution is simple but not easy: pay careful attention to the teaching of the gospel.
- When we read Scripture, pay attention to the words we hear. They’re words of ultimate importance.
- When we hear Scripture preached, lean in and pay attention. If the preacher is faithful, you are not hearing just any words but the very words of God.
- When you sing the great songs of the faith, pay attention to truths you sing.
Paying careful attention is the solution to our tendency to drift and neglect our great salvation.
Not complicated, but also not a set-and-forget practice. Keep at it. Fight our natural tendency to take rich spiritual truths for granted. Pay careful attention. There’s a lot at stake: how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?