For those that follow this blog regularly, I posted about my personal devotional practices a while back. Part of that process has been to read through the monastic tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Those writings are compiled in a series called the Philokalia. I love the theology of Eastern Orthodoxy. That may be strange since I work at a Protestant (Methodist) church. But much of Wesley’s theological flavor can be traced back to his love of the Eastern monastic tradition. For example, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the term “theologian” had little to do with propositional truths and systematic theologies. A “theologian” was a guy who gave up his former existence for the chance to go pray on a mountain top for the rest of his life. A “theologian” was a person who could talk about God accurately simply because he spent all his time in prayer with God. Novel concept, huh?
I came across a quote in the writings of St. John of Karpathos the other day that really got me thinking. He was writing to a group of monks in India who were struggling to keep the faith. He said this: “It is more serious to lose hope than to sin.” I stopped to absorb the quote…simply because it flies in the face of everything we are taught in Protestant Christianity. Sin is at the center. The cross happened because of sin. Guilt over sin is often used as a “motivator” for better living. And here’s this 7th century monk making sin take a back seat to losing hope.
So, I began to cross reference conversations and actions of the past few months. And as I sat there, the common theme with many that I spoke with was hopelessness. People who had been “beat up” by life: co-workers, family, bosses, “the economy,” etc. Some of them had been viciously skewered by the church. And all around them they had well-meaning people cheering for their return – rooting for them to get up and dust themselves off and jump back in the ring of life. But all they wanted to do was lay there. They had lost their hope.
Funny thing is, all these people are really good people. They love God, they love their families, they are all accomplished, well-educated, and respected by their peers. Their problem was not some over-the-top sin or tragic character flaw. They would be the envy of many…they had done things “right.” Yet, it didn’t protect them for the hopelessness they felt. I told them the opposite of most of the other counsel they received. I told them to take their time. Heal their wounds. Regain their hope. Take as much time as you need. And when you’re ready, get up.
I think John of Karpathos is on to something here. He discovered something we rarely consider in Western Christianity. It is more serious to lose hope than to sin because hopelessness leads us to do things we would never consider otherwise. In many Christian circles sin is more important than hope, but the potential for sin lies in losing our hope. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote things like this to the Ephesians: “I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance” (3:18). Find your hope first. The rest will follow.