By Abby Lorenc
I learned a new word recently: the word acedia. The dictionary defines acedia as apathy, but the true meaning of word is actually much darker and much more powerful.
Acedia is despair. It happens when we look at the world and at ourselves, become angry, disgusted and dejected, and just stay there. In Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas identify acedia as the “worldly sorrow” that Paul warns about in 2 Corinthians 7:10. This sorrow leads not to repentance but to death. Acedia is an actual sickness, a demonic plague. And why, on a Wednesday night, am I thinking about it?
I have been dumbstruck by the loss in our community recently. We have sick children and sick parents and broken relationships that refuse to mend. We are sick ourselves, and we fail. Recently in my community young children have died leaving behind shattered parents. This world isn’t just broken sometimes; it is terrifying, dark and hostile. It is in these moments of utter loss and disappointment that demonic acedia crawls into our hearts and minds to settle over us like a cloud. And it whispers, “All is lost. Stop hoping. Stop working. Stop fighting. It is for nothing.” Despair.
In a way, acedia protects us. If we despair, we can shut off. We can numb ourselves and grow hard and bitter. We can stop fighting for ourselves and for people. Acedia protects us from getting hurt again. We will be tempted to think we are entitled to a little apathy, a little despair. “Maybe the world just isn’t all that great. Maybe I was naïve. Maybe this is all there is. I don’t care to work for my marriage. I don’t care to fight off this oppressive sin, etc.” I am starting to believe that this entitlement is truly a lie from the pit of hell determined to steal our vitality and our joy, our chance at doing something beautiful in each other’s lives in the life of our city.
We are commanded in the face of emergency rooms and injustice winning and disappointment to hope. We are called to the true sorrow that leads to repentance, the sorrow that mourns the broken world with Jesus and waits for Jesus to set it straight. Jesus knows he will do it, so he asks us to trust him, to hope, and to get busy doing good.
Sometimes David would step outside of himself and have a conversation with his soul. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, for I shall again praise him” (Psalm 42:5 and other places). And maybe his soul would say, “Have you seen this place? Your friends left you, you are sick and exhausted and alone. Have you seen yourself, hypocrite? You are a murderer.” And then David would have a choice. Would he let his soul stay there? After all, his soul was telling the truth… but only the partial truth.
At the core of the universe, at the bottom-most core of truth, Jesus reversed death, covered us in righteousness, adopted us, and promised to make everything good again. And so when our souls are despairing we must say to them, “Listen soul, be still. You must hope in Christ. You will again praise him.”
Acedia, masking around as boredom and anger and depression and sometimes winning incredible victories in the form of suicide, must be fought with the best of what we have. We must fight with counseling, medicine, bible verses taped to our foreheads, desperate prayer and stern conversations with our own souls. And we must fight for each other.
Acedia has won plenty of battles. Jesus wins the war.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4