Is it a Deadly Sin to Stop Caring?
Acedia. This is not a word that is trending on Twitter today. Yet, it is a sin with which almost everyone struggles. From the Greek word meaning, “a lack of care,” we know this deadly sin as sloth or laziness. Yet apathy does not quite do justice to the original meaning.
For the past five months, my wardrobe consisted of sweatpants, tee shirts, and the occasional ponytail. As a teacher, I decided to try on “real” clothes a week before school started. I could not believe that over the course of the sabbatical, my clothes decided to shrink themselves! Apparently, the months of summer heat-escaping, Covid-19 quarantining, and general exercise-avoiding took its toll.
Acedia. This is not a word that is trending on Twitter today. Yet it is a sin with which almost everyone struggles. From the Greek word meaning, “a lack of care,” we know this deadly sin as sloth or laziness. Yet, apathy does not quite do justice to the original meaning.
In the late fourth century, acedia was first thought to be one of the eight capital sins. The origin of the eighth capital sin came from a fourth century monk, Evagrius of Pontius. He described acedia as the “noonday demon” because the Egyptian desert monks were tempted by the heat of the day to fall asleep rather than maintaining spiritual discipline. John Cassian described it as dejection, weariness, or distress of heart. The result of the condition is sluggish or indolent behavior.
Later, Pope Gregory combined acedia with "tristia" to describe the sin of sloth, shortening the vice list to the now popular seven “deadly” sins. Some consider sloth to be an aversion to work or physical discomfort. Theologian Thomas Aquianas saw spiritual affliction in the sin, recognizing it as a “sadness about one’s spiritual good.” In effect, acedia is the temptation to not care about our spiritual condition or walk with Christ.
This term is not highly spoken of today, yet its repercussions carry its weight in daily life. In the 1930’s, the Oxford English Dictionary made the word "acedia" obsolete until after World War 2, due to lack of use. The word comes from the ancient Greek word meaning, “lack of care.” Some people describe the sin of sloth or laziness as acedia, but in the original term resided a deeper meaning.
Though the word is not utilized in modern language, its effects are seen daily. When families and friends exist “alone together,” filling their silence with cell phones, television, and internet browsing, they succumb to acedia. When the overachiever continues to compulsively perfect a craft after their goal has been achieved. An ancient example is of a man who continued to make baskets when he had no one to sell them to and would burn them at the end of the day so he could make more the next day. Whether we try to stay busy doing nothing with meaning or we do nothing intentionally, acedia encompasses a spiritual boredom that tempts to disengage us from being who Christ calls us to be in Him. In John 15, Jesus reminds His disciples that in order to bear fruit, they must remain in him. Acedia is the refusal to do the things necessary to abide. It is the lack of care that causes the slow fade.
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What Acedia Means in the Bible
While the Greek term never appears in the New Testament, the concept derives from biblical teaching. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when tempted in the time of despair, Jesus sets the example for his disciples. The Son goes off to pray to the Father in his time of need, while challenging his followers to stand watch. After some time, Jesus returns to find the disciples sleeping out of exhaustion from sorrow (Luke 22:45). The Messiah rebukes his followers and asks them to get up and pray so they will not fall into temptation.
In Revelation, the church of Laodicea is rebuked for its lack of spiritual zeal. Their self-sufficiency and lack of confession caused them to lack fellowship with Christ and neglect the needs of others. As a result, their presence was sickening to the Lord (Revelation 3:14-18). The cure for their condition was repentance and acceptance of Christ’s invitation of rebuke, discipline, and fellowship.
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What Are the Symptoms of Acedia?
How do we know if we struggle with acedia? In the parable of the talents, the good and faithful servants were the ones who, while the Master was away, utilized what had been entrusted to them to produce more for the Master. The unwise servant, out of faithlessness, fear, and sloth, did nothing with what he was given. In return, the talent was taken from him and given to another (Matthew 25:14-30). Using the parable as an example, acedia exists when we allow our misunderstandings about ourselves or Christ to impede us from the kingdom work to which he calls us—showing faithful love to God and others. The symptoms can range from a failure of repentance to failure to adhere to the needs of others. The primary characteristic is a lack of care within our priority and superiority of Christ.
How to Overcome the Sin of Acedia
Like the Laodiceans, we struggle with presumed self-sufficiency and succumbing to the pressure of the culture war. Our jobs, families, and social obligations begin to dictate our schedules. Before we realize, fellowship with the Father has become a forgotten pastime, or something we think happens only at a spiritual retreat. So how do we overcome the temptation to give up our first love in moments of weakness?
1. Develop and Practice Spiritual Disciplines
Many times, people argue against spiritual disciplines because they do not want to appear legalistic in their religion. Understanding that some spiritual disciplines help develop a love relationship can soften hearts to the study of God’s Word, prayer, and worship. A marital relationship does not stay exciting by simply living in the same house. The couple must communicate regularly, oftentimes scheduling time together. Calendaring out time for God physically places Him as a priority on our calendars.
2. Continue to Reset and Re-evaluate our Focus
I have often had a focus verse to help guide me through the quarter or through the year. This has helped me focus on how I felt God was leading me for a particular season. Proverbs 29:18 states that where there is no vision, the people perish, but happy and blessed is he who keeps the law of God. When we pray for focus on the promises and purposes God has for us, we can center our plans around that key purpose.
3. Remember your identity in Christ
We give in to the temptation of acedia when we allow ourselves to be distracted by the circumstances around us and forget who we are in Christ. When Jesus returned to his disciples at the Garden of Gethsemane after they had fallen asleep, he reminded them that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41). In Christ, we are a new creation. We have received the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness (Romans 8:26).
The next time I decide to live in my sweatpants and on my couch, I think I am going to evaluate the purpose behind my decision. Am I tempted to give in to the meaningless or mundane rather than pursuing the purpose God has called me to passionately pursue in Christ? As believers, we are called to run the race with perseverance, keeping our eyes on Christ Jesus our Lord. When we consider him, we will not grow weary and lose heart.
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Cortney Whiting is a wife and mom of two preteens. She received her Master of Theology Degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. After serving in the church for nearly 15 years, Cortney currently teaches at a Christian school and writes for various Christian ministries. You can find her at her blog, https://recapturefaith.com.
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