Sloth is Not Just Laziness

Paul Copan wrote an article in the latest Christian Research Journal on the seven deadly sins ((Vol. 38 no. 2, 2015). When he came to the issue of sloth here’s what he wrote:

“While God made our bodies to require rest, even the blessing of sleep and rest can be abused. Proverbs strongly denounces sloth, urging the sluggard to learn lessons from the diligent, hard-working ant (6:6-11). One ought not to loved sleep (Prov. 13:11; 20:13). What’s more, work itself is a gift from God and is not the result of the fall. The ‘Proverbs 31 woman’ is industrious, hard-working, and resourceful. Paul himself taught and modeled a strong work ethic: laboring with one’s hands so as not to be a burden to anyone; working if one is to eat; providing for oneself and others through hard work (Col. 3:23-24; 2 Thess. 3:10-12; 4:12; 2 Thess. 3:12; 1 Tim. 5:8; Eph. 4:28). God, with His Son, is the model worker (John 5:17).” (p. 20)

This is good insofar as it goes but in some respects it misses the real issue that is at the heart of sloth. In her book Glittering Vices (Brazos Press) Rebecca DeYoung explains.

“I should confess that when I started studying sloth, I was fairly confident that this would be the one vice about which I would never have to worry. If anything, I reasoned, I’m too busy, hardworking to the point of a fault, and something of a perfectionist besides. Carelessness, apathy, laziness, and lack of effort would definitely not be my problem! My fragile bubble of self-righteousness quickly burst, however, when I read a little book that argued that busyness and workaholism were not virtuous, but rather sloth’s classic symptoms. According to its author, ‘Not only can acedia and ordinary diligence exist very well together; it is even true that the senselessly exaggerated workaholism of our age is directly traceable to acedia.’ It turned out that the apathetic inertia of a lazy person and the perpetual motion of the busy person could both reveal a heart afflicted by this vice, according to the traditional conception. . . . Retrieving the traditional definition of sloth will help us see how we now tend to mistake sloth’s symptoms for ostensible virtues, and how sloth has more to do with being lazy about love than being lazy about work.” (p. 82)

There is a new book from Ignatius Press by Jean-Charles Nault entitled The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times which deals at length with this vice. Here’s the catalog description:

“The noonday devil is the demon of acedia, the vice also known as sloth. The word “sloth”, however, can be misleading, for acedia is not laziness; in fact it can manifest as busyness or activism. Rather, acedia is a gloomy combination of weariness, sadness, and a lack of purposefulness. It robs a person of his capacity for joy and leaves him feeling empty, or void of meaning

Abbot Nault says that acedia is the most oppressive of demons. Although its name harkens back to antiquity and the Middle Ages, and seems to have been largely forgotten, acedia is experienced by countless modern people who describe their condition as depression, melancholy, burn-out, or even mid-life crisis.

He begins his study of acedia by tracing the wisdom of the Church on the subject from the Desert Fathers to Saint Thomas Aquinas. He shows how acedia afflicts persons in all states of life— priests, religious, and married or single laymen. He details not only the symptoms and effects of acedia, but also remedies for it.”

Sin is much more subtle an enemy than we often suppose. This book should be a fascinating read.

Noonday Devil


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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One Response to Sloth is Not Just Laziness

  1. As always, you bring much-needed depth to a discussion and show the complexities and nuances that, all too often, are “purposefully” taken for granted in an effort to simplify and soothe the simple-minded (another form of acedia or a failure to love wisdom and knowledge?).


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