Understanding and Living Our Faith: Overcomplicating Simplicity

“Walk before God in simplicity, and not in subtleties of the mind. Simplicity brings faith; but subtle and intricate speculations bring conceit; and conceit brings withdrawal from God.” (St. Isaac the Syrian)

I remember when I was in middle school, my teacher gave us a short paper to read. It was about a man who agreed to participate in a simple test designed to measure problem-solving and ingenuity. The scientist administering the test told the man he was going to lock him in a lighted room that contained no windows or furniture except a wooden stool for him to sit on. The scientist walked the man into the room, told him he had one hour to figure out a way to get out, and then left and shut the door behind him.

The man pondered for quite a while, ever conscious of precious time elapsing. There was nothing in the room except the stool and the fluorescent ceiling light. As he stared at the light, he realized it was encased in light metal. He stood on the stool so he could reach up and attempt to pry some of the metal free. He became excited that he had found a tool that he could use to wedge into the crack of the door to potentially force it open. The metal did not come free easily, and it took quite a while. Time was running out when he finally got a strip free. He went to the door and tried to pry it open when the scientist walked in and announced time was up. The man was exasperated and yelled at the scientist saying this was unfair and that there really was no way to pry the locked door open. That is when the scientist told him the door was never locked in the first place.

Do you ever notice how we tend to use our gift of intelligence to out-think ourselves? We seem to love overthinking and over complication above simplicity. The simple solution to whatever problem we are encountering, which later we realize was obvious, often remains elusive. Further, because we have been given the gift of intelligence coupled with freedom, we tend to rely solely on ourselves (Proverbs 3:5). We easily slip into the delusion of self-reliance when we should be first turning to Christ.

It is very hard to think clearly and maintain a simple and accurate perspective during times of high stress and anxiety. I notice this in myself and others. For example, my friends come to me often in the height of their angst to vent and discuss their problems. I listen patiently but usually tell them to get a good night’s sleep and that we can talk more about what is bothering them in the morning. Typically, after proper rest, they call me the next day with a new perspective. The stress and anxiety is gone or greatly reduced. The solution to their complex problem, in most cases, was simply rest. This is both practical and spiritual as is all wisdom.

The principle of rest comes from Christ Himself, who tells us to rest and that He will give us rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30). The book of Hebrews devotes almost an entire chapter (4:1-13) to Christ’s rest. This is simple wisdom, and simplicity is good for us. St. John of Krondstadt reminds us that “the Lord is so holy, so simple in his holiness.”

We encounter Christ directly through His simple wisdom. We easily stray from Him in our overly complex thought, forgetting He is an ever-present help to us when we are troubled (Psalm 45:11 LXX). “Keep it simple” is a cliché phrase that does us a lot of good to remember.

“But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3)

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Michael Haldas is the author of Sacramental Living: Understanding Christianity…
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