Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Abba Anthony said to Abba Poemen, "This is the great work of a man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath." This is a classic word from the Desert; no compromises, no illusions, no excuses. It is a very different word than we get from our culture. We have legions of experts ready to tell us that our faults are not in ourselves. We are victims of circumstance, bad genetics, poor parenting, bad government. It is not really that the experts are wrong. It is just that the work of the Christian is different. Let us take it for granted that we walked in in the middle of the story, that we stand, in the words of A. E. Houseman, "a stranger and afraid/In a world I never made." Recognizing all this, the Christian nonetheless insists that he is free, which is another way of saying that he is responsible. To place the blame for sins outside yourself is, ultimately, a way of diminishing your freedom. To accept blame is, paradoxically, the first great step to freedom. The last part of Abba Anthony's word, to expect temptation to the last breath, is the opposite of the message of almost every self-help guru and almost every book, CD, t-shirt, poster, or piece of jewelry marketed by the members of the Christian Booksellers Association. We want to buy easy answers and an end to struggle. Abba Anthony says that struggle itself can be the great work that, as free men, God has called us to. This is not a proposition with great marketing potential. It is nonetheless, as we will see in tomorrow's saying, the heart of the Desert message.