Where will your attention be focused this year?
Lots of voices will be telling you that you have to keep your eye on your sin levels. Sin, and evil, like your blood pressure, can creep up on you. One speaker I heard recently said we have to be vigilant because “we float in a sea of evil in this world”. Changing his metaphor he also described us as people who are constantly covered with open sewage (sin and evil). We have to hold on very tight to God in this context or risk perishing.
While sin can be insidious and confusing (Rom 7), is that what life is for us? Will this year be a twelve-month struggle to stay afloat, or intense and continuous self-examination everyday? This would constitute an unhealthy and unsuccessful focus on self.
St Augustine, one of the greatest theologians of the Western Church said “Evil is naught,” or evil is nothing – not “nothing” in the sense that it is unimportant or an illusion, but that it is not an independent thing. Rather, it is the result of the twisting of our human will, which is a good and real thing that has been corrupted. Evagrius, a saint of the Eastern Church, says similarly “That which is evil in the strict sense is not a substance but the absence of good, just as darkness is nothing else than the absence of light.” In other words, this lifelong centring of sin and self would be a love affair between that which is dead and that which is nothing.
Alternatively, the New Testament calls upon us to set our eyes and our hearts on the perfecter of our faith. The One who heals our minds, remakes our will, and joins us in our spirit to himself. This is a beautiful vision and one that promises a real and supernatural decrease in sin and an increase in the likeness of Jesus — in whose image we are made and remade.
“And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12: 1,2)
So let’s keep our eyes, and thus our attention on the Lover of our souls this year. Don’t waste your time in despair over your failures; instead celebrate the power and beauty of your saviour, who started a work he has promised to finish.