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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Deadly Sin Indeed: Acedia

One of the rich enjoyments I have as a pastor who prepares sermons week-in-and-week-out, is that I reap far more than I have time to give out. Much of what I receive may be useful later, but hopefully it is at work on me and in me now. If so, then Paul’s admonition to Timothy will be alive and well through and in me: “Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all” (1 Timothy 4.15.).

So, thoughtfully, and prayerfully rummaging through my readings for this Sunday’s sermon, I tripped over something by Dorothy Sayers (a Christian writer contemporary with C.S. Lewis). It caught me up short and forced me to read it again.

“The sixth Deadly Sin is named by the Church Acedia or Sloth. In the world it calls itself Tolerance; but in hell it is called Despair. It is the accomplice of the other sins and their worst punishment. It is the sin which believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for” (“The Other Six Deadly Sins” in Christian Letters To A Post-Christian World, 152).
The sluggish hopelessness of acedia (a-see-dee-a) is not necessarily physical laziness, though it can show up there. It’s that state of mind and heart that flows into a despair of purpose, a conscious rejection of joy, a flourishing cynicism about people or God. It crops up like an undefeatable west Texas weed that shrugs its shoulders and mumbles, “whatever”. It persistently emerges in the apathetic sigh that whines, “I don’t care about doctrine, just give me the Bible.”

Yet, more deadly than all the above, is what Peter Leithart notes, “Sloth is a lack of faith in God’s providence and care and a lack of hope that God will keep his promises” (1 & 2 Kings, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, 114). Unable or unwilling to trust God, that what He has spoken with His mouth He will fulfill with His hand (1 Kings 8.15, 24), we hunker down into disillusionment, apathy, drifting, and dull-witted empty heartedness, empty brainedness, and empty soulishness (Sayers, Ibid., 153).

Pastors struggle with this (if they’re honest). After preaching the Gospel of Jesus, administering the sacraments, and praying, days and years on end, and then seeing little fruit that fulfills their expectations (expectations, mind you, foisted on them in Seminary, Church Planting conferences, and by Church-Growth gurus), they give up the important apostolic calling of continuing in "prayer" and "the ministry of the Word" (Acts 6.4). They scrap the laborious task of studying and preparing to preach the tough-stuff of God’s whole counsel. If they cave in here, then they may likely try to fill up the void with namby-pamby, Pollyannaish, positive-mental-attitude success messages that help almost no one deal with deadly tornadoes, floods, drought, death, persecution, injustice, tsunamis, or God Himself.

Or they move to another dangerous extreme. They seek to force God to keep esoterically concocted rapture dates. Maybe they attempt to force God to do “mighty works in our time” by stringing together magical incantations (usually “Bible Promises“) that bully God into their own will (usually a will to prosper, a will to power). Then again, they may strive to force God to take notice of their “ministry” by means of emotionally ecstatic, physically exhausting gyrations that look strangely like the Ba’al priests on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18).

However it fleshes out, the root disease is the same: acedia-sloth. Unable to believe any longer that God keeps faith with His people; deflated and disillusioned by numerous defeats and disappointments, all that is left is, “whatever.” Nature abhorring a vacuum as it does, then the void that once was faith, becomes the sink hole that swallows down any and every technique that will make one feel good. A deadly sin indeed.

What to do?
1. Get on your knees and confess to God your "whatever" heart. Acknowledge the undying weed of acedia that has wrapped itelf around the tree of your faith to choke it out. And implore God to help you root out that damning weed. "He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy" (Proverbs 28.13).
2. Look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; "who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls" (Hebrews 12.2-3). Look to Jesus and see that His incarnation, holy life, death on the cross, burial, resurrection on the 3rd day, and ascension into heaven is God's resounding "Yes, I am and will keep fatih with My people" (2 Corinthians 1.20).
3. Care about things, and especially the things of God. Ask God to give you a heart like King Jehoshaphat's; "His heart was courageous in the ways of the LORD" (2 Chronicles 17.6a).
4. If you're a pastor, priest, Bishop, or minister, get your soul up off it's duff, and throw yourself back into the apostolic calling of Acts 6.4. "Give" yourself "continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word", that "your progress may be evident to all" (1 Timothy 4.15).
5. Finally, whether you start succeding or stumble over more disappointment, always, always, always return to number 2. Look to Jesus.


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