BROWNWOOD—Sloth is not merely laziness, but a refusal to allow God to fulfill his purposes that creates restlessness, Beth Newman told participants in Howard Payne University’s Currie-Strickland Distinguished Lectures in Christian Ethics.
Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, titled her opening lecture “Sloth is Hard Work.”Newman, the Eula Mae and John Baugh Professor of Theology and Ethics at the
“We tend to measure our importance by the size of our email inboxes, our followers on Twitter and the fullness of our calendars—that’s what requires effort. Sloth is something that just happens, isn’t it?” she asked.
“I want to argue, however, that like any sin, sloth requires effort, an exercise of our wills.
While sloth is listed among the seven deadly sins, its nature is deceptive, she said.
“Sloth is deadly because it is a source, sometimes hidden, that gives rise to other faults, like a contaminated lake flowing into and polluting surrounding streams,” Newman said.
Sloth is not necessarily denoted by lack of activity, she stressed.
Sloth can be ‘busyness’
“Laziness is a sign of sloth, but so is constant busyness. Far from being the opposite of sloth, busyness is a symptom,” Newman said.
The early Christian theologian Augustine saw in sloth a desire for God, she noted.
“Sloth pretends to aspire to rest, but what surer rest is there save the Lord?” she quoted Augustine as asking.
“For Augustine, sloth is a counterfeit rest, because the desire for rest, even if its object is false, nonetheless points to our true resting place—which is dwelling in the love of God,” Newman pointed out.
“Seen in this light, sloth can include both doing nothing and keeping a frenetically busy pace,” she continued. “Laziness and overwork are both symptoms of resting in one’s self—one’s own efforts, whether maximal or minimal—rather than resting in God.
“This is why sloth is hard work. It feeds upon restlessness rather than providing true rest.”
Theologian Thomas Aquinas defined sloth as an aversion to the divine good within, she said.
“Sloth prevents us from living out our true destination. Sloth causes the self to lag behind the self God invites and permits it to be—that is, the self redeemed by God,” Newman explained.
A two-dimensional world
“To be slothful is to live in a two-dimensional world of only work and rest from work”—and in that kind of world, there can be no true leisure, she said.
“True rest requires an openness to divine mystery, a willingness to delight in creation and a joyful acceptance of ourselves as beings created and redeemed by God,” Newman said.
Sloth cannot be cured simply as a matter of the will, nor will God force the change, she added. Magnanimity is sloth’s cure, she emphasized.
“Christian magnanimity is first of all about receiving what God desires to give us. The virtue of magnanimity enables the slothful person to become open to her true destiny. But this destiny is not something we choose or fully see. It is given to us in the fabric of our created being,” Newman explained.
Cooperate with grace
To become magnanimous, people need to cooperate with God’s grace already at work in their lives, she said.
“The slothful refusal to be the self God created and loves is overcome not by restless activity, self-improvement strategies or even showing how we can make a difference. Christian magnanimity is resting in communion with God and others and allowing our own deep wounds to be exposed to the healing love of God,” Newman said.