Apathy and our current spiritual malaise

So, I ran across this book on overcoming apathy and thought it might be a good read, but I just didn’t care enough to buy it.

Actually, I came across an article about a book on apathy, suppressed a yawn, and began reading. Before long I was introduced to an old term I had studied years ago: acedia.

Acedia is a Greek term that literally means “indifference, lethargy, exhaustion, and apathy.” One of the earliest and most influential thinkers on acedia was Evagrius of Pontus. He compiled a list of eight deadly temptations that later morphed into what we know as the seven deadly sins.

I had studied Evagrius in seminary and was drawn to his writings. Kathleen Norris wrote a book on acedia and it was incredibly moving. This is a temptation that is our constant companion as believers.

It targets the spiritual practices that are supposed to bring us life, such as prayer, stillness, Scripture reading, hard work, and perseverance in doing good. 

Evagrius devoted more space to this temptation than any other when he wrote to his fellow monks.

Acedia distracts. It makes us lazy and sluggish toward our spiritual and practical responsibilities. This hits home so many times in my life. I get restless. Reading becomes a dread. I don’t finish books. Prayer becomes harder. I distract myself with more sleep or more eating or more binging on streaming devices.

It’s a feeling of, “My get up and go just got up and went.”

The danger of acedia is it’s not severe. This is not depression. It is just feeling “meh” about life and especially spiritual life.

“Oh, I’m so tired. I can roll out of bed and stream the church service.”

“I’m so out of it. I’ll skip my prayer today.”

“I can’t get anything out of my Bible reading… I’ll hit it next week.”

What we lose if we allow acedia to stick around and possibly develop into a deeper form of apathy is what we need to hear. There is a need to be aware. There is a need to act.

When we “quit” we are allowing something to be stolen from us. We are allowing peace to be taken away. We are allowing our shalom to be vandalized. Our well-being and joy is draining away… and we don’t care.

Ultimately apathy, as a refusal to love the one who is most loveable, is a moral and spiritual crime. It is a sin in the most basic sense. Its origins may be mysterious, but its orientation is not. It is a coldness to God and an indifference to the things that bring shalom—both of which need to be forgiven, conquered, and healed.

The article is a good reminder at a good time for me. We need to be aware of what drains us slowly.

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