The seven “deadly sins” are well known to most, and many make perfect sense.
Of course anger is a deadly sin. News stories about road rage and disgruntled workers shooting former co-workers remind us of the deep anger that permeates society.
Envy has destroyed many relationships and on a national level can lead to war. Surely it is a deadly sin as well.
But sloth? Really? Are our neighbors sinning because they enjoy extra time in the Jacuzzi? Are our children sinning when they procrastinate? Am I sinning by mindlessly decompressing in front of my iPad? Is sloth that bad?
In fact, as a type A personality, I envy people who can relax and not worry. Maybe the productive people in our society could use a dose of sloth in order to chill out.
Few educated, productive individuals see sloth as a personal problem affecting them. And calling it a sin? Forget about it.
I’ve never had a church member say to me, “I need help. Can you recommend a good book on sloth?”
In our society, we see sloth applying to classes of people: the chronically unemployed, the stereotyped deadbeat welfare recipient, the mythical people we hear about who are on disability when they could work.
But those of us who work and have calendars filled with obligations, there is no way that sloth is an issue in our lives, and it is certainly not a sin we commit.
Yet, a problem in our understanding of sloth is one of translation. What we call sloth was called “acedia” (in Latin) and connoted much more than laziness.
A full recipe for “acedia” includes laziness, but also apathy. “A-pathos” – without emotion – means we don’t care. When we mix apathy with laziness, it means we don’t care that we don’t care. The “acedia” problem becomes more difficult to root out.
An individual suffering from “acedia” finds himself or herself in an unfulfilling job but doesn’t care enough to look for another.
A married couple with “acedia” finds their relationship barren but continues to go through the motions because change is too much effort.
Add boredom to laziness and apathy and you have a fuller, though not yet complete, understanding of “acedia.”
In his book, “Faster,” here is how James Gleick portrays boredom, “You are bored doing nothing, so you go for a drive. You are bored, just driving, so you turn on the radio. You are bored just driving and listening to the radio, so you make a call on the cellular phone. You realize that you are now driving, listening to the radio and talking on the phone, and you are still bored. Then you reflect that it would be nice if you had time, occasionally, just to do nothing.”
Now for the final ingredient of “acedia:” distraction.
At this time of year, our primary distraction is football. We pretend it matters so much because it really matters so little.
But it does distract us from real life, meaningful relationships or involvement in causes that could make a difference.
Did you know the word “sport” comes from the Latin “disport,” which means to distract?
The latest mass shooting pales in importance next to Tom Brady’s availability for a fantasy football league. Thanks to “deflategate,” I don’t have to think about those victims. Or my soul.
But sports is only one distraction. Even our crammed schedules are distractions. The distracted life is a wasted life and not only do we not care, but we are glad.
Secretly, we love our busyness because it distracts us from the need to look for God working in the world or to think about how we might invest in the work of the kingdom.
In the end, we have the perfect recipe for purposeless, unfulfilling, unredeeming “life.”
We waste our lives on things that don’t matter. We ignore the greater calling of life, lest it demand something of us. Yet, we are bored with it all and don’t care.
As ancient Christians pointed out, we despair of it, but we don’t care enough to repent of it. Such a life is “acedia and such a life is sin, precisely because of its waste and because it is self-centered and ignores God.
Sloth is not only a sin of an imagined lazy member of the welfare class. Rather, it is the sin of all who waste their lives on loves that are too small and causes that are not worthy of our devotion.
These distractions serve to protect us from having to respond to the impulse of the Spirit to love God with all our hearts, all our souls and with all our might.
The fact that we don’t care enough to do anything about it is just a further indictment that the sin’s ours.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.