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The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
August 12, 2013
Boredom or Sin?
It happens to all of us, regardless of whether we’re in school or in the working world. I’m talking about sloth, one of the infamous “seven deadly sins” (and for good reason!).
What is sloth?
Dorothy Sayers describes it like this in her address to the Public Morality Council at Caxton Hall, Westminster, England:
It is the sin which believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and only remains alive because there is nothing it would die for.
In other words, sloth is laziness, idleness, apathy in every way. It is an unwillingness to work. It is a state of being, a lifestyle, a way of treating the precious life given us.
And it becomes very hard to escape from it once we’ve been caught in its trap. I know, because I’ve struggled with sloth from time to time, especially when I was unemployed after college. After many days turned into months of searching for work, I began to lose motivation and grew apathetic. I felt little reason to get up in the morning, to seek the good of my neighbor, to take care of myself, and to treat others with love. My choice to give in to a sloth-filled lifestyle was detrimental to me and to those around me.
Why is sloth sin?
Sloth isn’t just a little misbehavior. It is a sin, and not at all what God wants for us as his children. Here’s why:
1. It goes against the character of God: “In his defense, Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working’” (John 5:17).
2. It brings poverty: “Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth” (Proverbs 10:4).
3. It shows a lack of wisdom: “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provision in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8).
4. It burdens others: “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer yourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’” (the apostle Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).
5. It demonstrates unfaithfulness: “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (Hebrews 6:12).
6. It takes away the opportunity to contribute to those in need: “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4:28).
I’ve also found that sloth leads to boredom—and it’s very easy for us to lose focus on Jesus and the life He calls us to live when we’re bored. In some manner, our heart, mind, and soul wither without the nourishment of work. It lowers our defenses against temptation, and gives us little desire to live in godliness.
Sam Storms writes in his book Pleasures Evermore:
One of the most serious threats to the human spirit is boredom. Boredom is the breeding ground for wickedness. Bored people are easy targets of the flesh and the Devil. It is like putting a bull’s-eye on your chest with a sign: ‘Tempt me. I’m easy!’ Why? Because boredom is contrary to the natural, God-given impulse for fascination, excitement, pleasure, and exhilaration.
How can we as Christians guard against sloth?
First, actively seek work. Understandably, there are many of us who have had or are having a hard time finding employment. But keep persevering in your search. Let the desire to avoid sloth be a great motivator for your pursuit of employment. And even the search for employment is a way to work, for it gives you purpose, adds meaning to your days, and will eventually reap a harvest of character and result in a potential job.
Second, decide to volunteer in our local community. There are so many service opportunities through which Christians can bless others and show them the love of Christ. And getting to lift the burdens of others is a gift in itself.
Third, look for ways to serve in ministry at our local church. Every single individual has a role to play in building up the body of Christ, and what better way to spend your time than to give energy and effort to help others? You could lead a small group Bible study, usher, serve coffee, intercede for others on a prayer team. There are hundreds of ways to help. And, in addition to keeping you from sloth, serving can help you discern more clearly what gifts God has given you, and what kind of vocation you may wish to pursue in the future.
Fourth, work within the confines of our own home. Yes, this seems pretty obvious, but many of us can testify to how easily we avoid it. Even doing basic chores such as washing the dishes, cleaning the bathroom, and taking out the trash can offer so much not only to you, but also to the people you live with. Jesus himself stooped down to wash his disciples’ feet, so we are not exempt from doing menial work.
As Timothy Keller says in his book Every Good Endeavor:
Work is so foundational to our makeup that it is one of the few things we can take in significant doses without harm. Indeed, the Bible does not say we should work one day and rest six or that work and rest should be balanced evenly but directs us to the opposite ratio. Leisure and pleasure are great goods, but we can only take so much of them.
In these last few weeks of summer, and as we head into a new school year, take heed and stay away from sloth. Good, healthy, hard work is part of the calling of all Christians. Be blessed in working for the glory of God.
Keith is a medical student at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. He calls the San Francisco Bay area his home and is an InterVarsity alumnus from the University of California, Davis.