The seventh deadly sin of sloth is often the most confusing of the sins. Sloth? Really? It can send you straight to hell in a hand basket?
Sloth is an interesting topic. When I first began researching it, I figured I’d find some stuff about laziness. I was troubled to note the origins of this seventh deadly sin. I mean, you heard and read it: sloth was originally understood to be sadness, depression if you will.
To quote Cecil Adams, the highly acclaimed author of the Internet site, Straight Dope, “It isn't bad enough I'm depressed in this life, I'm going to rot in hell for it in the next?”
That’s kind of the way I felt.
Then there’s the parable of the Talents. And the man with one talent who gets scared and buries it but then returns it to the master, gets reprimanded for being lazy and gets the talent taken away from him and given to the guy who has the most talents. (Sounds a bit like our country’s supposed Tax Breaks). Seriously though, the guy got nervous and buried the money. I get scared all the time – will what I’ve been given get taken away from me too? Is being scared the same as being lazy? And wicked? Cause that’s what the servant gets called…
I admit, if sadness is a sin, I’m going to hell with or without hand-basket: I’m headed straight there. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars.
But the definition of sloth encompasses much more than sadness. In fact that may be an exactly horrible way to describe this sin. Rather, it is described as spiritual apathy or spiritual laziness. And any way you describe it, the effect of sloth is that it prevents virtuous conduct. Dante attributed sloth to insufficient love and understood in this manner, unlike lust or greed, which perverts or misuses love, sloth is a lack of love, of a desire to serve, to do what’s right.
And so it may be seen as one author suggested, as putting your kid to bed early so you can play solitaire or watch T.V. That’s modern day sloth.
On the other extreme, ancient theologian Thomas Aquinas asserts that Sloth is Sloth is "sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good... [it] is evil in its effect, if it so oppresses man [sic] as to draw him away entirely from good deeds.
Not just neglecting to read to your kid before bedtime, sloth opens the door to a world of evil. Laziness of the mind may just lead to the other vices we’ve discussed thus far. The dangers of a remote control that stays in your hand all evening, or a mouse’s click that keeps one glued to the computer, need hardly even be mentioned. Author Steven Waldman notes that “for some time now, progress has moved beyond preserving human dignity to encouraging human sloth. Far from being a sin, it has become an aspiration.” And Thomas Fuller aptly notes that “He [or she] that is busy is tempted by but one devil; he that is idle, by a legion.” We’ve seen sloth lead to gluttony, sloth lead to lust, sloth lead to envy because sloth keeps us lethargic both mentally and physically as in our laziness we lose our passion for God and for what is right. Our apathy toward ultimate goodness allows us to just get pushed along in the crowd, never seeking a destiny, never seeking change.
Sloth isn’t sadness, it’s a concession to not care about doing what is right, or even about what right even means. Sloth is not finding out what your political party really believes cause its easier to believe what your parents did and vote straight ticket. Sloth is not getting to know your neighbors because after all “every man is an island” right? Sloth is skipping Sunday School cause you’re tired. Skipping church cause you went last week. Skipping out on community cause coming at Easter is good enough to last you ‘til Christmas. Skipping out on life because you went to the Christmas service last year and really, it wasn’t very good.
Maybe, just maybe, we are missing the point?
The Catholic church solidified the seven deadly sins and warn against them because working out your salvation is key in the Catholic church. And while protestant hate the idea of “works righteousness,” the thought that we could do enough good deeds to get us into heaven, there might just be something to the warnings of the Catholic faith. Even Buddha on his deathbed said, 'strive on with diligence': a call for work, perseverance and effort. Lethargy, idleness and sloth are not Buddhist ideals either.
Diligence, zeal, and perseverance are all virtues juxtaposed with the deadly sin of Sloth. I suppose that’s why in some myths, those who choose a life of sloth are punished by being thrown into snake pits when they enter hell. Nothing gets you on your toes faster than a roomful of snakes. Just ask Indiana Jones.
But lest the snakes and the flames and Buddha and cracks at Christians who only come to church on Christmas turn you off from the seriousness of this seventh deadly sin, listen to the words of the ancient text of Deuteronomy 6: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” In other words, always be guided by your love for God. Actively live out the goodness you have learned. Remind yourselves of the stories of the people of God, and persevere in your faith. Remind yourselves of the love God has for you, and be diligent in doing what is right to others and the world. Remind yourselves that we are all in this together and zealously live as though you really are children of God.
Because we are. We are God’s children. We are God’s daughters, we are God’s sons, and we are not marked by sloth or anger or envy or lust or pride or greed or gluttony. We were not created for such menial habits. We were created to live zealously, to live life to the fullest, to live free in the love of God. And we were created to pass that on to others.
So I remind us tonight to not let lethargy reign. No selfish apathy, no greedy laziness.
Be motivated by love. By love.
For the wages of sin is death, but our lives have been illumined by love.
Live motivated by that love.