Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What Laziness Isn't and Is

[W]e ought to define what sloth is. Let’s begin by listing a few things that are not slothfulness:

Stillness isn’t always slothfulness. In a noisy, hurry-sick world, regular silence and stillness is a necessity. Jesus himself “often withdrew to deserted places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Times of peaceful, un-busy, prayerful meditation on God’s Word are not laziness. God commands us to take the appropriate time to be still and know He is God.

Sabbath isn’t slothful. God commands regular rest from our work. We’re supposed to work more than we rest, but there is nothing sinful about resting and there’s nothing honorable about not resting. It is both unwise, irresponsible, and disobedient not to rest.

Recreation isn’t sloth. As part of God’s command to rest and his freedom in the gospel to enjoy the good gifts he gives us, there is nothing wrong with having fun via hobbies (like collecting shells!), vacations, games and sports, arts and entertainment, good meals, and just plain being silly. In the appropriate measure, recreation is good for us and reflective of the joyous heart God gives us.

Retirement from a job is not sloth. John Piper has famously criticised the retired couple who are spending their twilight years collecting seashells. But while Piper and I may disagree on this point, retirement from a career in itself is not greedy or lazy or otherwise sinful, only what you do with that retirement. Quitting a career to go on a years-long vacation is slothful. But those who retire from a paying job to devote their time to productive, industrious, kingdom-minded pursuits are to be commended.

Ecclesiastes 9:10 reminds us that, relatively speaking, our time before death is short, so therefore “Whatever your hands find to do, do with [all] your strength.” So, then, we see that sloth isn’t just about work per se but about putting our whole selves into every aspect of life. When it comes right down to it, it is possible to be lazy about resting! I know men who never use their vacation days at work. They imagine this makes them look hard-working to their boss—and it probably does—but it makes them foolish to the Lord. They are dragging their feet in addressing their disobedience to the Sabbath, their dishonoring of their family’s need for their presence in retreat and recreation. Ironically, they are being lazy!

Romans 10:31 says, “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God's glory.” The un-slothful soul is one that glorifies God in work and play, effort and leisure.

Sloth is essentially apathy. This can be a mental or emotional quality as well as a physical. In this sense, sloth isn’t just laziness of body, but laziness of thought or feeling as well. Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas is on to something when he writes, “Sloth is a kind of sadness, whereby a man becomes sluggish . . ." As fun as it can be to be lazy, sloth begins from a downcast disposition or attitude, a sort of “sadness” we can call apathy or ambivalence. The word sloth comes from the Greek for “carelessness,” and that is exactly what sloth is -- not caring.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming Bible study Seven Daily Sins, releasing from Threads Media in Spring 2012.


cjbooth85 said...

You said, "Quitting a career to go on a years-long vacation is slothful."

Piper wasn't saying to stay at your job till you expire, was he? Wasn't he making the same point as you?

I took Piper's comments about the seashells to mean what you just said: "But those who retire from a paying job to devote their time to productive, industrious, kingdom-minded pursuits are to be commended."

Or did I miss something?

Anyway, thanks for the post and I look forward to the book. This post was a good kick in the pants for me - been a bit lazy lately, so thanks Jared.

Jared said...

Chris, I could be wrong on this point (which is why I said "I *may* disagree"), but I think Piper is harder on retirement than I would be. But his general point, I agree, is not to "waste" your retirement, I think.
But his little booklet on retirement seems to suggest that able-bodied people retiring from work is fairly idolatrous of the American dream. I am only saying "not always."

cjbooth85 said...

What do you think about someone retiring early? (I plan to become independently wealthy and retire at 47 haha). Wouldn't it be cool to leave your old profession and spend your later years working hard for the Kingdom (like a few of the Samaratin's Purse workers are doing here in Vermont) and then (what I like to call) collapsing into heaven?

However, I know that the energy levels decrease with age, and health begins to break down, and I wonder if Piper took that into account in his criticism..

Point well taken: don't be slothful - even in your retirement....don't waste your retirement. Got it. And I was going to buy an island and body surf into my 90's....

Cassie said...

I think that Piper has been misrepresented here. In his sermon, he was asking what are you doing with the rest of your life? Are you living for yourself and the American dream or are you continuing to pursue the kingdom and the glory of the Lord?

Is it wrong to go to a beach and collect seashells? Absolutely not. Is it wrong to spend your last years serving yourself? Yes-- and if you doubt that for a second, look at the last few chapters in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and examine how Christ spent his last days.

I believe that is what Piper was getting at.

Jared said...

Cassie, I don't doubt even "for a second" that self-service at any time is wrong.

I have not tried to misrepresent Piper (please see my previous comment in response to cjbooth85 for clarification there), and used the "may disagree" phrasing on purpose. I agree with Piper's primary point about "wasting retirement." I just think it is ambiguous what he feels about retirement in general, so I am trying to be clear.

Anonymous said...

Will there be a post on how one can overcome slothfulness? How the gospel works into that, how one can lean into the gospel when one is lazy? I struggle with laziness, but there's not many resources on it from the church, other than "don't be lazy!" Most stuff is about busy-ness. I wish I had that problem instead. But I'm at a complete loss as to how I'm supposed to get out of this snare that is laziness.

Jared said...

Anonymous, I touch on the cure for laziness in this previous post: http://gospeldrivenchurch.blogspot.com/2010/03/how-do-you-cure-laziness.html

But, if you'll forgive the plug, I have a Bible study coming out from Threads (LifeWay) in January called *Seven Daily Sins.* It includes an entire session on addressing and attacking laziness with the gospel. Since you asked about available resources, I hope it does not seem self-serving to suggest that one. Like you, I'm not aware of many out there that address this specific problem. I hope my work may fill a need there, including in its addressing of gluttony (and other sins) that aren't given much attention.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response Jared. I'll definitely look into your Bible study, looking forward to doing so.

I got here via The Resurgence, so I also look forward to reading more of your posts.