“All things are wearisome, more than one can say.” Ecc 1:8
“So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecc. 2:17-18
I can’t stand it: the endless blogs on minutia of scripture, the contentious exchanges on Facebook, the duelling in Bible 101, the ubiquitous sermonizers on Christian radio. It makes me want to exclaim with Pilate, “What is truth?” I think if I have to listen to one more preacher droning on and on about St. Paul’s pronouncements to the Romans, or the wayward Corinthians, or hear one more bombastic “worship” team’s show passing its offering off as holy music I think I’ll scream. At its best it’s all entertainment, and at its worst it’s isegesis, and every bit as aggravating as another hackneyed sermon on stewardship or church discipline per Matthew 18:15.
I think what I’ve been feeling is similar to what Solomon was feeling when he composed Ecclesiastes. I suspect Ecclesiastes would rank highest on a list of least favorite and most misunderstood books of the Bible. They are the musings of a tired, jaded old cynic—my kind of book for sure. I wrote about it in my book The Unwelcome Blessing. Way back in DSM-II Solomon’s malaise was the diagnosis called Involutional Melancholia—a severe midlife depressive reaction. Well, the APA in all their wisdom did away with that diagnosis, but today in popular parlance it’s sometimes called a “midlife crisis.” No, not buying a Corvette and running off to Hawaii with some young babe—more like waking up one morning very sad and wondering where your life went, was it all worth it?
Several year ago, a guest preacher at Northland, the Rev. Steve Brown, preached on the topic of acedia. I’d heard the term “acedia” but was rather vague about what it meant exactly. Listening to Steve’s message it struck me that acedia was very much like a condition I’d experienced, treated and written about: clinical depression. While similar, it is not clinical depression, but more of a malaise of the spirit—a weariness of the soul. Not exactly The Long Night of the Soul, but close. Medieval monks related acedia to sloth. They called it the “noonday demon” found in some renditions of Psalm 91:6. Sloth was not physical laziness, a lack of energy, but more like a torpor in one’s spiritual disciplines. Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins—the sins which lead to spiritual death.
Recently, a friend gave me a CD series on acedia that Steve Brown presented in the past year at The Cove, Billy Graham’s retreat and conference center in North Carolina. My friend giving me the CD series seemed another example of God’s economy in action. I’ve been living thru another period of spiritual and creative dryness, tinged with cynicism and my usual mild despair—essentially the cognitive/emotional state I portrayed in the first paragraph. I’m just tired of all the sanctimony—tired of all the craziness that passes itself off as Christianity, tired of hearing about wayward pastors and lunatic cults, tired of megachurches and church planting initiatives, tired of folks who extract a line or two of scripture and then build empires on it, tired of whiney contemporary worship music. Tired, tired, tired. Whereas I’m officially self-diagnosed as having dysthymia (Greek for “bad mood”), I would not say that I’ve been clinically depressed of late. Just weary, spiritually weary.
Dysthymic Disorder is a mild to moderate depression that is often life-long and in many cases unrecognized, undiagnosed and untreated. It is sadness tinged with irritability and pessimism. Dysthymics often self-medicate via addictions and codependency. It is the substrate of hopelessless and fear beneath most addictions. And it is often successfully treated by antidepressants.
I don’t take any pills for depression (or acedia). But God ministers to me in various ways and Steve’s presentation was exactly what I needed to hear. And so just what is the answer to the problem of acedia you may ask. It is twofold: One, to repent: metanoia. To agree with God and change one’s mind. No, not to try harder—you can’t fix it. Only God can do that, but as Graham Cooke points out repentance is simply apologizing to God. And it is a very sweet grace indeed that God allows us. When we apologize to God, and agree with Him, and again acknowledge that we need Him, then we can stop beating up on ourselves and move on. The second answer to acedia is praise—to praise and thank God in all circumstances (I Thes. 5: 16-18). I already knew that. The Holy Spirit illuminated that in a Dr. Joel Hunter sermon way back in April, 1995—but I needed to be reminded.
Ultimately, depression has within it the power to teach us about joy, acedia doesn’t. It is why acedia (sloth) is one of the sins which can lead to a type of spiritual death—a giving-in, a compromise with the world. One of the Seven Deadly Sins, Solomon’s weariness, the monk’s noonday demon. No, not the losing of one’s salvation, but more a loss of hope and joy, the foretaste of Heaven which we can experience here and now.