Desert Fathers or Diaper-Changing Fathers: Who is more godly?

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:15-17

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Water Lily | Mercer Botanical Garden | June 2018

Sometime around 270 AD, [St.] Anthony heard a Sunday sermon stating that perfection could be achieved by selling all of one’s possessions, giving the proceeds to the poor, and following Christ (Matt. 19:21). He followed the advice and made the further step of moving deep into the desert to seek complete solitude (Wikipedia). For some time others followed his lead and the group became known as the Desert Fathers. Their goal of spiritual purity took the form of withdrawal from the world, recitation and memorization of Scripture, charity, and forgiveness.

These are all good things, and so is any discipline we might embrace to enhance our relationship with God. John would seem to point to such a lifestyle in these words were it not for the fuller context of his letter. In that letter he speaks of loving one another. He also expresses a truth that God loves all people, so how shall we remove ourselves from those who are less pleasing (or more challenging to our Christian walk)?

Jesus’ example was clear: he ate and drank with sinners and prostitutes. He asked that the Father would protect his followers from the evil one, even as he prayed, “I do not ask you to take them out of the world…” (John 17:15). Asceticism has the appearance of holiness and godliness. But one does not have to go to such extremes in order to eschew love for the world.

Loving God, valuing the Giver, not the gift, and guarding our hearts from greed will allow us to follow John’s directive as well. These serve to fulfill our calling as Jesus’ disciples on a daily basis.

We fall prey to the love of the world when the pride of life and the undue concern about what others see overtakes our attention to the daily duties of family and friendship. But  when we love God and our neighbor, and do the menial things that such love requires we are most truly abiding with God.

Martin Luther spoke about this in his The Estate of Marriage (1522):

Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.

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