Unmasking the Deadly Sin of Sloth
My children love the zoo. Surrounded by the concrete wilderness, there comes over them a sudden instinct to act and speak and even gyrate in ways that are animal-like. It’s an exercise in mimicry and communication.
Children love connecting with wild beasts — so they slam their little hands on the glass, rattle cages, and make all those goofy noises. It’s an attempt to draw the notice of animals. And, of course, the beasts that respond are the crowd favorites.
Even if it’s just a lion simply staring into your eyes for three seconds through glass, that’s a chilling victory. That’s a connection that satisfies a child’s primitive longing to connect with a ferocious and deadly animal.
Not so with the sloth. The sloth is an ugly, gangly, hairy thing, with long legs and arms, and stretched, yellow claws. It just hugs a tree. Minds its own business. Bothered by nothing. Tuned into nothing. Sorry kids, there will be no engagement, no meeting of the minds. The sloth is napping. Again.
The Bible does not paint a more flattering picture of the sloth in our lives. The biblical images and slogans are unforgettable:
If a man doesn’t work, neither should he eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10)
“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways.” (Proverbs 6:6)
The sluggard doesn’t get out of bed; he just flops like a wet fish — or a rusty door hinge. (Proverbs 26:14)
The sluggard puts his hand in his food but lacks the motivation to get it to his face. (Proverbs 26:15)
And like the old Minneapolis Metrodome in an historic blizzard, the sluggard’s roof sags and sinks down, and rain pours in on his head. (Ecclesiastes 10:18)
These are the common pictures of sloth: flat, idle, unresponsive.
Sloth devastates lives, slowly and subtly. And it hides in two misleading stereotypes.
Clarification #1: Sloth is a sin of desire.
It may not seem to be the case, but sloth is a sin of desire.
Proverbs 13:4: “The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing . . .”
Proverbs 21:25–26: “The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor. All day long he craves and craves . . .”
All of us are craving, desiring, wanting people, and no less is this true of the sloth.
Clarification #2: Slothfulness thrives in busyness.
This shocking manifestation of sloth is what I call the zombie. The slothful zombie may live a very busy life, but he does just enough to get things done, so he can get back to enjoying his comforts. Duties are what he performs, but comfort is what he craves. The zombie lives his routine in a fog, sleepwalking between weekends.
Frederick Buechner writes this of the zombie:
Sloth is not to be confused with laziness. A slothful man may be a very busy man. He is a man who goes through the motions, who flies on automatic pilot. Like a man with a bad head cold, he has mostly lost his sense of taste and smell . . . people come and go, but through glazed eyes he hardly notices them. He is letting things run their course. He is getting through his life.
Richard John Neuhaus defines contemporary sloth as “evenings without number obliterated by television, evenings neither of entertainment nor of education, but a narcotic defense against time and duty.”
This is sloth at its deadly best: trying to preserve personal comforts through the candy of endless amusements. Sloth is a chronic quest for worldly comfort that compounds boredom — boredom with God, boredom with people, boredom with life.
The most common species of slothfulness is “lazy busy” — a full schedule endured in a spiritual haze, begrudging interruptions, resenting needy people, driven by a craving for the next comfort. It is epidemic in our day.
Sloth is a craving for personal comfort at all costs. And it is costly:
Sloth will cost you joy in God, in your daily routines.
Sloth will blind you to how God designed vocation as a means for you to love others.
Sloth will blind you to the needs you can fill.
Sloth will cost you your love for the local church.
Sloth will dull you with endless amusements.
Sloth will blind you to your urgent need for Christ.
Sloth will close your eyes to the wonder and beauty of Jesus Christ.
Sloth will mute your worship.
Sloth will rob you of true leisure and refreshment.
Sloth will kill your richest joys.
The sloth is a comfort control-freak — an illusion of power that robs all our true joy.
Freed from Sloth
There is hope for a “lazy busy” sloth like me. I have hope because God hates my sloth.
Sloth tells me all things should work together for my comfort. God says, I will work all things together for your good (Romans 8:28). Huge difference.
Being comforted is not the same thing as being made comfortable. God is not in the business of making us comfortable. Eternally safe in Christ? Yes. Free from his wrath? Yes. Victorious over sin? Amen. But comfortable? No.
Human beings were never designed to flourish in a state of permanent vacation. That promise is a sham.
In love, God will remove comforts from our lives, which is the essence of trials. When we get overly comfortable with something, we start to sink into spiritual slumber. And then lightning falls from the sky. The comfort is taken away, and we are jolted back to spiritual alertness.
Through trials, God says, “I love you enough to remove the comforts you crave to make room for the joy in Christ you need.” God is in control. That’s our comfort.
The glorious truth is that in Christ we have been freed from the dominion of sloth. No longer does the addiction to comfort rule over us. No! We are free in Christ. We don’t sleep all day trying to find joy. That’s suicide. We don’t live in a zombie-like fog, just shuffling toward the next day off, the next vacation, the next escape. No! We are freed to enjoy Jesus now, in daily sacrifice.
Tony Reinke contributed a chapter on sloth in the book Killjoys: The Seven Deadly Sins. Electronic versions of the book are free of charge at desiringGod.org. Print copies are available through Amazon.
Killjoys was written to lead you deeper in love with our God and further into war against your sin. Pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, gluttony, and lust are woefully inadequate substitutes for the wonder, beauty, and affection of God. This short message was part of the 2015 Conference for Pastors.