I think that is a particular malady of old men…especially old men like me with ADD. Boredom has in it a touch of cynicism and a dash of not caring. I guess all of us have some of that, but the problem with boredom is that it spills over into things like one’s walk with Christ. And if you’re a preacher, that’s when it gets dicey. Not only that, when spiritual boredom gets you, it smells like sin and that particular sin has a name—acedia.
It’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins. That list has been a part of the church’s teaching from as early as the sixth century with acedia generally the last one on the list. Acedia is often translated as “sloth,” but that isn’t what it is. Sloth isn’t my sin. If anything, I’m a workaholic. And while I have my slothful and lazy moments, I hardly ever have to confess that one.
Acedia reflects a lack of excitement and passion about the things of God. Acedia is a Latin word that comes from the Greek, meaning one is apathetic, listless, or lacking in joy. It has overtones of melancholia and often has been called the “noonday demon.” It’s when the flame that once burned brightly begins to flicker or when those truths that once made you dance now make you want to take a nap.
Acedia reflects a lack of excitement and passion about the things of God.
I’m probably your most religious friend. And if you’re a “religious professional,” you're especially susceptible to acedia. Frankly, I’ve read so many religious books, taught the Bible so many years, given so many lectures to religious students on becoming more religious, listened to so many confessions, prayed so many prayers, conducted so many religious services, and performed so many funerals, baptisms and weddings, that sometimes it has a tendency to go bland on me.
You’re probably not saved.
Of course I’m saved.
I remember when I was saved (Reformed folks know that it happened 2,000 years ago). It was so real then, when I gave as much as I knew about myself to as much as I knew about Jesus. He accepted me and told me that he would never let me go. He hasn’t and he won’t. That’s not the problem.
It’s just that sometimes the “gold has gone dim.”
It’s not just a preacher’s sin either. I bet you’ve experienced it too and especially if you’ve been a Christian for very long. You remember where Jesus found you, and the excitement and joy that you felt then. You remember the tears of release and laughter that followed. You felt like dancing...and you didn’t have to look at your feet while you did it. But then all the “religious stuff” began to overwhelm you and, over the years, something happened to the passion.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard Christians say, “I wish I could feel the way I felt then...”
Acedia means that one still prays, but God often doesn’t seem as real as he once did; one still walks with Christ, but one’s thoughts are sometimes somewhere else; and one still does religious stuff, but sometimes it’s hard to remember exactly why. This “noonday demon” attacks almost without our noticing it. We don’t backslide...we just get tired and slow down, and then the light goes out.
Acedia is reflected in the words of the Psalmist: “For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!...Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 43:2-3, 5).
Okay, what can we do about it? Get more religious? Read the Bible and pray more? Be more faithful with our devotions? Do more church work? Be more obedient and less rebellious? Get involved in more ministry to change the world, feed the hungry and reach out to the “least and lost”?
Are you crazy?
There’s nothing wrong with those things; but if the sin is acedia, they’re not the solution, they’re the problem. When the gold has gone dim, getting more religious is like giving water to a drowning man.
I move the previous question: how do you fix acedia?
You don’t…and you can’t. You can certainly stop cussing and be nicer by being intentional about not cussing and being nicer. There are a number of sins that can be fixed with “elbow grease” at least for awhile—but not acedia. Passion isn’t like a faucet you can turn off and on at will. In fact, the harder one tries, the worse it gets.
Then just accept it and do nothing?
When Paul talks about God’s grace being sufficient and his power being made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9, the Lord’s message to Paul), Paul is referencing a key to a solution to the problem of acedia.
I don’t know about you; but for me, acedia grows out of a particular kind of soil (if I were less spiritual, I would say “manure”). It’s the soil of my shame and guilt. That leads to my efforts to mask shame and guilt by being more religious and faithful...and when that fails, to either pretend that I haven’t failed or to give up trying altogether. That’s when the gold goes dim.
Someone has said that when one finds himself or herself in a deep hole, the first and most important thing to do is to stop digging. The Psalmist said that God said, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
Elijah was the “poster boy” for acedia. You’ll remember his encounter with Jezebel and the prophets of Baal from which he emerged victorious (1 Kings 18-19). You’ll also remember his fleeing into the wilderness where Elijah “asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kings 19:4). You file that under acedia.
God then came (“the Lord passed by”), but not in the way and manner Elijah expected. He looked for God in the mighty wind, a great earthquake and a raging fire, all that God sent, but God wasn’t there. Then there was a “still, small voice” (the ESV translates this as “the sound of a low whisper”).
God himself was the only remedy for acedia.
Elijah stopped digging.