Lutherans aren’t big on the seven deadly sins. Maybe it’s the potlucks and gluttony. Still, this might be the age of sloth. Someone told me we have the wrong idea about it. Sloth isn’t just too much Netflix and not enough exercise. It isn’t laziness. Sloth is giving up. It is the absence of hope. Joy. Life.
The “laziness” is becoming discouraged by difficulty because we don’t think we can overcome it. Underneath all of it is hopelessness. Depression. It doesn’t matter what I do. I can’t fix it. I can’t change it. I can’t reverse it. My choices don’t matter. So why bother?
But let’s be honest. Sloth doesn’t struggle to diagnose the problem. It just can’t find the solution. So, it’s given up. The world has plenty of treatments. Hey, I know you’re depressed, but go do stuff. Exercise. Socialize. Medicate. Find a hobby. I dunno, maybe get a kitten? Fake it till you make it. All, except the cat, are good ideas. Dogs are better. But fake it till you make it only highlights the problem. We still feel pretty hopeless.
Christians have adopted the same strategies. I’m guilty of it too. We say something that sounds inspiring at the time, but basically boils down to “Rub some Jesus on it. Walk it off.” Be diligent. Make good choices. Do stuff. Hope more. There is a correlation between activity and hope. Those who exercise do feel better, but we aren’t as good at working our way from activity to hope as we think. One little roadblock can wreck it all. Rather, hope works our way to activity.
An object at rest stays at rest. God didn’t give you free will. Sorry. He isn’t waiting for you to make the choice to live. “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. (Small Catechism, 3rd article)”. “You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:1–5)”. If this thing starts, it starts with God, not you.
We don’t like that, because free will seems like the medicine for sloth. The idea that God has already determined everything feels like a crutch. If God has determined everything, and we can’t change the hour we die, the path of the universe, or anything else that matters, why bother? Might as well stop taking care of myself. I can’t change it anyway.
We hate the idea we’re not in charge. We hate the idea we might not have free will, even if we don’t know what to do with it, and sloth takes over. We say “If we don’t have free will we’re basically robots. Are you saying God made me put on my red shirt today?” We get bogged down in the silliest of things.
God didn’t choose what shirt you put on today, even if He all-knowingly knew it. You wore red because it’s game day. God didn’t choose for you to sin either. Ever. You can know it, because of the Thou Shalt Nots of the law. Your sin hurts others. He doesn’t want that. He wants your neighbors cared for. That’s why He gave them you. The choices you make here matter to the world around you. The choices you make have consequences. That’s what’s so terrifying.
Instead of free will, what if we called it free desire? Are you free to desire the things of God? Are you free to hope? The sloth we can’t seem to shake is evidence that we are not. You are not free to hope in God on your own. I cannot by my own reason or strength. You are dead in your sins. Dead folks don’t make choices. Sin binds the will and the conscience alike.
Rather than starting with ourselves and our situations, let’s start with our God. Did He rise from the dead? Did He name you holy and worthy of love in your baptism? Has He tied you to the victory over everything you fear in the resurrection? Start there, with the words and promises of God. The Holy Spirit delivers hope. Faith. Life. He has called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified the whole church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true. (Small Catechism, 3rd article).
You are what He has made you to be. Alive in Christ. When you don’t feel it, turn to Him who gives it and hear it again. Maybe hear it daily. Maybe cross yourself as a remembrance of the baptism where He delivered it to you. First thing in the morning. Last thing before bed. Your identity is not the sum of what you do or don’t do. You are baptized.
What if I fail? You might. Can your failure put Christ back in the tomb? Make you unworthy of love? If not, build. Not for you. For your neighbor.
What if I can’t make myself stop feeling sloth? You can’t. Not by your own reason or strength. So hear the promise. Then stop staring at your own belly button and look to Christ who has conquered your entropy and sin. He is risen even from the grave.