Sloth is not really one of those sins that we would look at and say “that’s me!”. Most of us are so busy, we are running as hard as we can, to the point of exhaustion. This raises the issue of whether we shouldn’t we be looking at “rest”, “be still and know that I am God”, etc.? In fact there is something, I have to admit, that is appealing about the meme with the sloth that reads “Live slow, die whenever”.
Sloth: the Absent Sin in the Bible
Sloth does not appear in any of the Biblical lists of sins. The sluggard, as a personification of sin, is famously mentioned in Pr 6:9-12 where he is instructed to go to the ant and see the work it is doing. The danger of not being diligent in our work, a theme that Paul returns to in 2 Thessalonians “In fact, when we were with you, this is what we commanded you: “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat.”” (2 Th 3:10 HCSB). Hebrews 5:11, 6:12 are more specific in their mention of laziness in the light of not taking the time to know God.
What Sloth Really is
Sloth is not about laziness, though it could be. It’s not the same thing. Sloth is about making sure we are being diligent in doing what we should be doing. We can be very busy, being busy, but forgetting what the important thing is. “For Calvin, an immensely busy person may still be slothful where it really counts, namely in the affairs of the Spirit, in the response to God”1. This means the real danger, therefore, is that we are lazy at worship and worship work. Both of these are remedied by seeing the world through the eyes of God.
We need to be working on our relationship with God. Jensen points out that Calvin does not mean that the sovereignty of God allows us to be lazy. God does not need our prayers, but calls on us to pray and assures us that prayers have a real effect. Sloth will stop us from working on the Spirit’s empowered transformation into being more Christ-like.
We need to be taking time to love those around us. ““The telltale root of our word diligence is the Latin diligere, which means “to love.” Sloth, on this view, is apathy—comfortable indifference to duty and neglect of other human beings’ needs.”2 DeYoung goes on to make the analogy of a married couple who take their relationship for granted and don’t work on the relationship that exists. In the end, the relationship, without being worked on will die. “Retrieving the traditional definition of sloth will help us see how we now tend to mistake sloth’s symptoms for ostensible virtues, and how sloth has more to do with being lazy about love than lazy about our work.”3
The question we really need to ask is when it comes to sloth, is not “am I lazy?” But “what am I spending my time on?”
Ironically understanding and living in the way that God wants us to will lead to rest, real rest. “Sloth can thus show itself in the total inertia of the couch potato or the restless distractions of endless activity. Somewhere in between these two symptoms of vice is a holy Sabbath rest for the heart that has given itself utterly to God, a heart overjoyed, not oppressed, by the thought that “love so amazing, so divine, demands my self, my life, my all.””4
How does a busy person address sloth?
Ask your self:
- Am I busy doing the right things?
- Am I so busy that I am not concerned about the people around me? That I don’t have time to love them?
- Am I so busy that when I rest, I am like a zombie?
- When I rest is it in a way that I am able to thank God for the world he has made, is my rest an act of worship (1 Timothy 4:4-5)?
1 Jensen, Peter. “Calvin on Sloth.” In Still Deadly: Ancient Cures for the 7 Sins, 121–43. Sydney: Aquila Press, 2007. 127-18
2 DeYoung, Rebecca Konyndyk. Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies (p. 81). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
3 DeYoung, Rebecca Konyndyk. Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies (p. 82). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
4 DeYoung, Rebecca Konyndyk. Glittering Vices: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies (p. 95). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.