Resistance and Sin – Reframing Pressfield’s The War of Art
Several months ago, I was listening to Michael Hyatt’s podcast about his top-ten list of favorite books. Steven Pressfield’s book, “The War of Art,” was touted by Hyatt as one of the best books to read for any aspiring writer, blogger, and platform builder.
Intrigued by the title, I purchased the audio version and began listening to Mr. Pressfield while on my morning walk. I couldn’t stop listening to it. Within a few days, I had worked through the book a second and third time. Not because the book contained fresh new insights into the difficulty faced by working authors, but rather, I was amazed at how Pressfield had masterfully articulated a core Christian idea of sin in very modern terms —resistance. There it is in simple elegance. Resistance.
The Definition of Resistance
Consider for a moment Mr. Pressfields definition of resistance.
“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work. According to Pressfield, it is the “enemy within” keeping us from working, building, doing, and being. He doesn’t tell us where this resistance comes from, however, only that its real, powerful, and persistently working against us. Can you relate? Pressfield continues, “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of sh-t,” (This was my favorite line).
Christianity, of course, has a similar concept, the doctrine of original sin. Meaning, every person struggles with a corrupting force deep within the recesses of the human heart resulting in disobedience, self-glorification, and unbelief. Consider St. Paul’s words for a moment, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out,” (Romans 7:18, ESV). Notice his emphasis in this text. Paul recognizes something working in his heart that keeps his desires at bay with his ability. In other words, using Pressfield’s terms, there is a “negative repelling force” between Paul’s desires and abilities resisting his efforts to do what is right.
Now Paul is speaking in the context of his ability to obey the Law of God (vv 7-12). Because of resistance, his efforts to obey the Law of God fall short. Despite his best efforts, Paul tells us, he failed (v. 8).
We are accustomed to understanding resistance in terms of morality — “dos” and “don’ts.” But understanding sin through the lens of resistance has far deeper implications. Sin, understood partly as a repelling force resisting our every attempt in life towards goodness, allows for a better explanation of why communication continually breaks down between people, why relationships go awry, why pastors commit great moral failures, why corporations and even government spiral into corruption, and so on. Every moment of every day, resistance is actively at work in the world.
Where Does Resistance Come From?
Christians point to the story of Adam and Eve disobeying God by eating fruit from a forbidden tree. After Adam and Eve consumed the fruit, God’s punishment against human rebellion is portrayed in the form of a curse:
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Genesis 3:17b-19.
There is a curse placed upon the ground, upon the dust of which humanity was made. Look closely at the words associated with the curse —pain, toil, thorns, thistles, and sweat. Nothing will come easy. Because of the curse, human effort will be resisted. St. Paul echoes this same idea, “For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” (Romans 8:20–21, NET). Futility, bondage, and decay, these are the expressions of a man who understands the world to be resistant.
You cannot overcome resistance. Ultimately there is no formula for overcoming resistance. Testimony to this observation rests in the existence of thousands of books and manuals marketing methods for “your best life now” or “30 days to your best body.” You may have an elite body for a little while, but time and age will prevail. Strategies are helpful and very often come from real stories of people who have encountered resistance in some small area of their lives. However, Pressfield acknowledges that resistance never goes away. It requires work.
So what can we do? Here are a few suggestions.
- Accept resistance. Accept that resistance will meet us every day. Accept that our lives are part of an ancient narrative still unfolding the full story. From the time we open our eyes to the moment we close them, we will meet resistance. The sooner we come to accept this reality, the sooner life can begin.
- Recognize resistance. Learn to discern the areas where resistance is occurring in your life. All of us have points of struggle in life but the nature of our resistance is unique. Take time to think through where resistance may be working against you.
- Confront resistance. The only way to substantially overcome resistance is recognize your powerlessness to do anything about it. Don’t be in denial about it. Confess to someone that resistance is keeping you from your pursuits.
- Expect resistance. This may sound strange at first, but consider anything meaningful will be met with resistance. If you are experience genuine resistance, it might be because you are trying to engage in something meaningful. Expect it.
Have you ever experienced resistance in your life? If so, what have been your strategies for handling times of resistance?