If when you read “sloth”you thought “lazy”(as most of us do), then you tipped your hand that you hold a shallow view of this capital vice, this deadly sin. We’ve been conditioned in the West by an out of control “Protestant work ethic”which shouts “Busyness is next to godliness.”Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung blasts our superficial view of sloth and drives us to the core sin: sloth is a failure of love. Huh? DeYoung notes that if sloth were the original sin, we’d still be in Paradise. We’re working our way through Glittering Vices: The Seven Deadly Sins and Their Remedies.
With biblical phrases like “consider the ant, thou sluggard”and “if a man will not work, neither let him eat,”sloth was opposed to diligence and defined an apathetic, inactive life. Swinging the pendulum far the other way, we now believe “workaholism”is a virtue. Did you ever wonder why silence and solitude are such difficult spiritual practices in our culture? It’s because with these practices, we’re not doing anything or saying anything! We are wasting time!
Here is Dr. DeYoung’s grand “ah ha!”: eager type A, driven, very important busy people are exhibiting the primary traits of sloth. Huh? I know. Take a deep breath and read that again. The classic symptoms of acedia (the Latin term for this vice means “lack of care”) are busyness and workaholism. Why would this be? Sloth’s spiritual roots are “being lazy about love,”not lazy about work.
Evagrius, a monk writing in the 4th century, describes acedia as the “noon-time demon”that did its ugly work from about 10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., the part of the day when time seemingly creeped along. Monks would get restless and want to flee their spiritual commitments. Acedia fosters a very unhealthy disgust for “place.”The monks would day-dream about life outside their monastery “cell,”would remember the pleasures and relationships of life in the city. The monks, horrified by spiritual tedium, longed to escape the long life-time of burdensome asceticism. Are you beginning to sense the depths of sloth? That it is a failure of love? Sloth is not physical (only), i.e., being lazy, but is spiritual, resisting the transforming work of the Spirit to make us new people. As Christians, our identity is “now,”and “not yet.”We’re called, as Aquinas urged, to stay deeply committed to the process of growth which, at times, is full of tedium. Why? Otherwise, we would not develop perseverance, patience, and commitment.
Very busy people can use work as an escape from the demands of love. One’s commitment to God is at stake when sloth attacks. The day to day tedium of fulfilling marriage vows illustrates the opposite of sloth. When a husband and wife are to slow (lazy) to admit wrong, express forgiveness, and restore their relationship, they are slothful. Love is an investment of time and self. Love is a daily dying to self. Sloth can’t stand that. The desert fathers asserted that one’s identity and vocation are at stake with acedia. Sloth is an aversion to God’s work in us by the Spirit. Sloth “is caused by the Spirit’s opposition to the flesh (Galatians 5:17).”
Emotionally sloth can “feel”like depression, but it is not depression. (Dr. DeYoung points out the importance of not calling slothful people depressed or fat people gluttons. (More about gluttony later.) Slothful people seem apathetic, depressed, lethargic, and resigned because they mourn the loss of self. They avoid activities and people that bring them face to face with their identity in Christ. DeYoung points out that the slothful “are stuck between the self they can’t stand and the self they can’t bear to become.”
Sloth’s remedy: Stay put! Stabilitas loci. Don’t flee the tediums of love. Love requires a demanding series of daily choices…toward God, toward others, and toward ourselves. Make choices of courageous endurance and steady commitment.