ACEDIA – THE FORGOTTEN SIN
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick…” Proverbs 13:12
The word “acedia” has been lost to the modern English language and is the forgotten of the original “Seven Deadly Sins.” Though acedia is not explicitly named on the many lists of sins in the Bible (Proverbs 6:16-19; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:1-5), a monk named Evagrius Ponticus (345 – 399AD), one of the most gifted intellects of his day, compiled in Greek from Scripture his list of the “Eight Evil Thoughts.” In this order Ponticus included: gluttony (gastrimargia), fornication (porneia), avarice (philargyria), hubris (hyperephania), sadness – sadness at another’s good fortune (lype), wrath (orge), boasting (kenodoxia), and acedia (akedia). Acedia is listed last because Ponticus considered it “the most troublesome of all.”
A short time later, another celebrated monk John Cassian (360 – 435AD), translates Ponticus’ list into Latin but with slight variances of meanings. Cassian’s “Eight Evil Thoughts List” is: gluttony (gula), fornication (fornicatio), avarice (avaritia), pride (superbia), despair (tristitia), wrath (ira), vainglory (vaingloria), and acedia (acedia).
Then almost 200 years later, Gregorius Anicius (540 – 604AD) – the pope known as “Gregory the Great” and called by the Protestant Reformer John Calvin “the last good pope” – compiles a list of sins derived from Cassian’s list which Anicius calls “The Seven Deadlies.” In every day terms, Anicius combines pride and vainglory as well as despair and acedia, and then adds envy. Interestingly, he “changes” fornicatio (fornication) to “luxuria” – which expands the meaning from illicit sex to intense desire… lust! In Anicius’ mind, this could be lust for power, food, drink, knowledge, money, and/or fame. Therefore, in English, the very first list of “The Seven Deadly Sins” is: lust, gluttony, greed, acedia, wrath, envy and pride.
Over the centuries the word “acedia” has been transliterated into “sloth” on most “Seven Deadly Sin Lists,” not to mention “dropped from daily use” in the English language. But what is the definition of acedia – this once so “prominent of sins?” The Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church reads, “A state of restlessness and inability either to work or to pray.” According to Wikipedia, “Acedia is the neglect to take care of something that one should do. It is [best] translated apathetic listlessness; depression without joy… In early Christian thought, the lack of joy was regarded as a willful refusal to enjoy the goodness of God and the world God created.”
The respected theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274AD) believed that acedia was that which Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 7:10 as “worldly sorrow.” Dante Alighieri (1265 – 1321AD), the prolific Italian writer of The Divine Comedy, calls acedia “the failure to love God with all one’s heart, all one’s mind, and all one’s soul.” The seriousness of this sin is underlined by the fact that for centuries many writers have expressed that acedia’s ultimate manifestation is a “despair which leads to suicide.”
As for me, acedia was not part of my vocabulary until I stumbled on this archaic word while casually researching “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Immediately when I read about its earlier definitions, my heart was stirred because I – for the very first time – could identify my feelings and spiritual condition from 2001 – 2003AD. These were the years that I was put on sabbatical (taken out of all leadership and influence) and then fired for my convictions about the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16- 17); about the Biblical mandate of a central leadership with a central leader for God’s people (Numbers 27:15-18; Judges 2:6-19); that discipling is a command of God for every Christian (Matthew 28:20); that the “visible church” is to be composed of only sold-out disciples (Acts 2:41-42); and that we as God’s people are commanded to evangelize the nations in our generation. (1Timothy 2:3-4)
After reading what others had written about acedia, I too began to search the Scriptures. For me, Proverbs 13:12 sums it up best, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul teaches that when one is not regularly inspired by the “body and blood of Jesus” during communion that this is the reason “people in the church” are “weak, sick… and [have] fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 11:30) The state of being “weak” most disciples comprehend, and “fallen asleep” of course means one has fallen away but still attends church. Yet, “spiritual sickness” is a term rarely used but it “fits” acedia!
Perhaps from these two passages one begins to understand why “sloth” in time was substituted for “acedia.” When one is physically sick, one is usually lethargic – “hurting” and thus unmotivated “to get out of bed.” So it is with “spiritual sickness” – one’s heart is hurting so badly that one “feels” that it’s just too hard “to get out of bed” to do the will of God. Sloth on the other hand is simply laziness – one “loves doing nothing” more than working for God. Acedia and sloth may look the same – no work done for God – but in fact they are very distinct. This seemly subtle substitution on The Seven Deadly Sins List may have been the beginning of Satan’s scheme “to hide” the Biblical concept of acedia from our day and age.
So what is the cause of the forgotten sin of acedia – “spiritual sickness?” I believe it is bitterness in one’s soul. In Hebrews 12 the Spirit says, “Endure [all] hardship as discipline [from] God.” Since God is sovereign then everything that happens to us either God makes happen or He allows it. The Spirit says that “yes” this “discipline is painful,” but God’s purpose is to “produce a harvest of righteousness and peace…” So when hardship comes one has a choice either to become a “better Christian” or a “bitter Christian!” In other words, one “gets down and depressed” because one’s life is not going as they had “hoped.” Your hope is “deferred!” This is why Hebrews 12:15 teaches, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Many of us “picture” bitterness as a raging, hateful and loud individual. However, actually for most, bitterness makes us depressed, lethargic and withdrawn… just like Cain whose “face was downcast.” (Genesis 4:6)
As I studied out this sin, I knew that I must look at the life of Jesus because He was “tempted in every way just as we are yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) In Jesus’ darkest hours in Gethsemane, He shares with His three closest brothers – Peter, James and John, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:38) Then He fell to the ground praying for three hours, “Father if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39) Luke adds that His prayer was so intense that Jesus sweat drops of blood. Then Luke continues, “When Jesus rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, He found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ Jesus asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’” (Luke 22:45-46) Most notably, Jesus is tempted with acedia and overcomes through prayer and surrendering His will to God’s, but His disciples succumb to acedia – “exhausted from sorrow” – failing to even pray!
So in retrospect in examining my own life, I was deceived by my sin and Satan. (Hebrews 3:12) Since I was a “happy pagan” before I was baptized; a “happy” young Christian; a “happy” Evangelist; and a “very happy” husband and father, when great adversity came, my heart was not like Jesus “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2) When I faced “opposition from sinful men” (some I caused by my sin against them) I grew “weary and began to lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3) I did not “see God” anywhere in my hardship but I was bitter towards those that I perceived “hurt my family and me.” Confused by Satan through the sin of acedia, I almost lost my ideals, my Biblical convictions, and my salvation. (John 8:43-44) Praise God that the Scriptures reveal “the truth, and the truth… set me free!” (John 8:32)
However some nights… I still struggle with acedia – “exhausted with sorrow.” In fact, I was recently convicted by the Disney movie FROZEN. I had a dream where Elena & I were sitting in a plane and watching other passengers board. Then two “brothers” (who in my opinion) did my family and me “a great deal of harm” came down the aisle. (2 Timothy 4:14) When the first one came to me, I immediately stood up and angrily rebuked him! When the second one passed, I was even more sinful! I said absolutely nothing as I scornfully watched him pass by. I told Elena the dream in the morning and I knew I needed to repent of this bitterness that had crept back into my heart. Then a few days later, I received an email informing me that the man to whom I had said nothing had just lost a son to cancer. Elena asked if I was going to write a sympathy note… She asked three days straight! I then cried when I saw that my heart was “FROZEN!” In the movie, the only cure for a “frozen heart” is “an act of true love.” Remarkably, after I wrote and sent a warm email to this brother, I felt a peace come over me as my heart “melted” from this “act of love.” I learned that I have to “re-crucify” my bitterness and reaffirm my forgiveness, especially since none was ever asked.
I write these things to help any others who can identify with me. Through God’s incredible mercy and patience, I now see clearly that God had to take away everything that I valued too much. Like Nebuchadnezzar – who was “driven away from people and ate grass like cattle” – God greatly humbled me (except for eating grass) making me understand that I am nothing. (Daniel 4:33) Through the “hardship” of losing all my leadership and most of my “friends,” I learned that I must live only to praise “the Most High!” (Daniel 4:34) I thank God for Elena whose fierce loyalty and love pointed me to God and gave me strength to persevere.
I do believe that for most “remnant veteran disciples,” acedia is our “sin of choice” as our “hope” of a glorious church that would reach all nations was “deferred” by our sins! How do we repent of acedia – “the most troublesome of sins?” First of all, you must identify it in your life. Secondly, you must surrender to the sovereignty of God, embracing your hardships by asking what God wants you to learn.
I still remember quite vividly studying with Carlos Mejia at the Good Earth Restaurant after he visited the Inaugural Service of the City of Angels Church in May 2007. At that time he shared that he was “visiting and checking out” many different churches and could not commit to any because he was “so sad” about the demise of our former fellowship and “how he was treated.” Perhaps the most impacting Scripture for him was Luke 5:31-32, “Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’” I shared with Carlos from this passage that to be “sick” is to be a “sinner” and that “repentance” makes us “healthy.” In response, Carlos repented of his acedia – spiritual sickness – that day and placed membership the next Sunday! But now when Carlos shares about that Sunday, he simply says, “I was restored to my first love!” Furthermore, today Carlos powerfully leads the Santiago de Chile International Christian Church!
Be sure of this, “healing” from this sin is not a matter of time but “repentance!” Then as part of your “repentance” of bitterness, forgive those who have hurt you or you will not be forgiven. (Matthew 18:23-35) Since acedia is “the willful refusal to enjoy the goodness of God” be aware that this sin will return with his seven deadly demon friends unless you willfully “rejoice in the Lord always… [and pray] with thanksgiving… [so that] the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus… [Therefore] whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things… [Remembering you] can do everything through Him who gives [you] strength!” (Philippians 4:4-13) Even overcoming acedia! And to our Merciful Father in Heaven be all the glory!