Sloth: A Slow Suicide
Originally published March 9, 2015
‘Sloth is a kind of oppressive sorrow that so depresses a man that he wants to do nothing.’- St. Thomas Aquinas
Not long ago I faced a series of events that tempted me to despair. I neither tend towards hopelessness nor the depression it engenders. I discovered both in that hard season. What scared me was my temptation to not fight the low dark ceiling that had settled on my life. No hope, no aspiration, no action. I fantasized about throwing in the towel and doing nothing. Sloth wanted my soul.
Disappointments of a certain magnitude and frequency converge to become despair: that is the breeding ground of sloth. And sloth seduces us into that mire and consoles us: ‘Rest here, here in the darkness. See? God does not act on your behalf. Stop fighting; give yourself up to the dark current of sorrow.’ Paul refers to sloth when he describes the ‘worldly sorrow that brings forth death,’ in contrast to the godly sorrow that inspires turning to Hope Himself (2 Cor. 7:10).
According to Josef Pieper, sloth is the most serious sin of all because it refuses God. Sloth seduces us to unbelief. No God, no hope: death. We may be unaware of sloth’s slow stranglehold because of counterfeit emotions. Such feelings mask as legitimate: ‘I am grieving, I am being real, I am finally authentic.’ But real grief draws us unto Jesus, as does realistic assessment of our desperate state. Sloth raises itself above God; it urges us to put down the Cross and blanket ourselves in a godless, self-piteous resignation.
Sloth has immediate rewards. If there is no hope, then why try? And why worry about God? If He either does not exist or does not care about me enough to act, then why not eat, drink, and drug your blues away? Throw off the moral yoke and throw in a little fornication too…
I have witnessed a disturbing kind of sloth fueling the ‘gay Christian’ movement. Here a group of people who claim Christ as their Source forsake Him as the Redeemer of their sexuality on the grounds that ‘gay’ roots run deeper than the River of Life. Then the faulty conclusion: ‘He must have made me that way…’ Insisting on realism, the ‘gay Christian’ settles for less, a dreadful fatalism bordered by the low ceiling of the ‘gay self.’
The return? No need to aspire to fruitfulness, to the fullness of what Jesus intends for our sexual selves. It is hard work to become who we are: to shake off years of fear and hurt and rebellion and begin to emerge into the persons of God’s design. Sloth gives us an out: be something other than who God says you are.
Josef Pieper says it best: ‘One who is trapped in sloth has neither the courage nor the will to be as great as he really is. He would prefer to be less great to avoid the obligation of greatness.’ Truly this is the time to rouse ourselves, to shake off all vestiges of despair and to shake each other up a bit. We need to incite one another to chastity and fruitfulness and to refuse slothful ‘outs.’
‘Let us not forsake gathering, as many are in the habit of doing, but let us provoke one another to love and good deeds, and all the more as you see the Day approaching’ (Heb. 10:24-25).