Most people think that medieval theologians got it mostly right when they were conjuring up with their rogue’s gallery of Seven Deadly Sins.
With regard to the behaviors and attitudes that assault our life with God, pride, anger, lust, greed, and envy are no-brainers. Gluttony might be a bit of a head-scratcher. But sloth is the “deadly sin” that seems most out of step with modern sensibilities.
Is it really that dangerous to be a Doritos-munching, channel-surfing, homework-procrastinating, never-seen-a-dust-cloth-in-my-life Couch Potato? Sure, laziness is unproductive. But what’s the big deal about squandering a bit of time? As Snoop Dogg says while reclining on the beach in his Corona Beer commercials, “I’m just livin’ the fine life, baby.”
Medieval scholars, however, were assuming a different definition of sloth.
Sloth is the failure to do the right thing at the right time for the sake of God. Yes, that might mean inactivity. But it could just as easily describe a frantic, swamped, hurried pace of life. It’s quite possible to busily “serve God” and “take care of our loved ones” as a primary means of avoiding both God and our loved ones.
Sloth is the universal human temptation not to go forward, not to seize the day, not to respond to the particular call of God on our lives.
Perhaps more than anything else, sloth keeps us from loving. Loving other people – with their inherent faults and frailties – requires an incredible amount of commitment. Most of us simply don’t want to work that hard. The Captain and Tennille sang Love Will Keep Us Together. But they were wrong. Love isn’t some kind of mystical “third force” that keeps two broken people from running away from each other. Lovers have to wake up every day and choose, one more time, not to let their relationship downshift into autopilot.
Sloth is likewise a fierce enemy of personal spiritual growth.
Let’s face it: Life is difficult. It’s hard to hear the truth about ourselves and deal with the fact that many aspects of our character are not yet aligned with the heart of God. Repentance requires a serious and sustained effort to live a different way.
Author and sociologist Tony Campolo points out, “Most Christians I know have just enough of the gospel to make them miserable, but not enough to make them joyful. They know enough about the biblical message to keep them from doing those things which the world tempts them to do; but they do not have enough of a commitment to God to do those things through which they might experience the fullness of his joy.”
He goes on to tell the story of a young woman who considered herself a spiritual person but lacked any semblance of joy in her life. She went through all the right motions, but her own existence seemed boring and futile. She went to see a counselor at a church-based center but made little progress.
Then one day she came to her appointment overflowing with enthusiasm. “What happened?” asked the counselor.
“Well,” she said, “my car wouldn’t start this morning, so I asked the pastor if he could give me a ride over here to your office. He said yes, but he had to stop and make a few hospital calls on the way.
“I went with him, and while I was at the hospital I visited a few elderly people in the wards. I read from the Bible and prayed with them. By the time the morning was over I was higher than a kite. I haven’t felt this much joy in years.”
“That’s wonderful!” said the counselor. “Now we know how to keep you out of the doldrums.” Much to his surprise the young woman answered, “You don’t expect me to do this sort of thing every day, do you?”
Perhaps it’s best to answer her question with a few questions of our own:
What kind of life do we really want to have? And what are we willing to do in order to counteract the slothful impulses in our relationships with God and with others so we can begin to experience deeper joy?
Sloth, of course, won’t give up without a fight. You can be certain that your slothful impulses will propose the perfect time to start working on these issues: tomorrow.
Don’t wait for tomorrow, or this weekend, or some future date when you’ll “finally have some time.” This is your life we’re talking about. Don’t wait to feel more confident or educated or supported by your family.
When is the perfect time to take your next step forward?
Since this is the day the Lord has made, it’s time to take Now for an answer.