Sloth as a virtue
February 11, 2014
clergy was the only holy vocation. Worldly work did not carry the spiritual cache of religious occupations. At the risk of oversimplifying, it was the Protestant Reformation which recovered the notion that all work is good and may therefore be done for the glory of God.
Work is valuable for a number of reasons. Certainly we ought to work in order to provide for our families. The Scriptures tell us that if a man will not work in order to provide for his family, "he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Timothy 5:8). God expects people to work as means of provision. "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat" (2 Thess 3:10). Virtues like industry, productivity, frugality, and generosity are all praised in God's Word.
But there is something even more fundamental to the value of work. We work because God created us to work. God made man to be productive. That is, before the fall, work was part of God's very good design. God is a worker and we bear his image. He placed the man and woman in the garden to work it, subdue it, and exercise dominion over it. Life in paradise was never meant to be lazy or unproductive. Man's God-given bliss involved working.
Of course, sin messed everything up. Because of sin our relationships are in disrepair, life is short, and work is hard. But however cursed by sin work is, it is still no less necessary, no less a means by which man may glorify God.
The Proverbs are laden with words of praise for the value of work and warnings against laziness. In his indispensable commentary on Proverbs Derek Kidner writes:
"The sluggard in Proverbs is a figure of tragi‐comedy, with his sheer animal laziness (he is more than anchored to his bed: he is hinged to it, 26:14), his preposterous excuses ('there is a lion outside!' 26:13; 22:13), and his final helplessness.
"When we ask him (6:9, 10) 'How long...?' 'When...?' we are being too definite for him. He doesn't know. All he knows is his delicious drowsiness; all he asks is a little a respite: 'a little...a little...a little...' He does not commit himself to a refusal, but deceives himself by the smallness of his surrenders. So, by inches and minutes, his opportunity slips away.The recent CBO report that the Affordable Care Act will cost well over two million jobs has certain politicians on the left scrambling. We are used to spin from our politicians. It's like white noise. But this time it's different. This time members of Congress are telling us that the inevitable loss of millions of full-time jobs is a good thing. Now, we are told, parents will have more time for their children. We will be healthier because there will be time to prepare proper meals rather than grabbing take-out. One gets the impression that we should have stopped working years ago.
The rare effort of beginning has been too much; the impulse dies. So his quarry goes bad on him (12:27) and his meal goes cold on him (19:24; 26:15). He will not face things. He comes to believe his own excuses (perhaps there is a lion out there, 22:13), and to rationalize his laziness; for he is “wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason” (26:16).
Because he makes a habit of the soft choice (he “will not plow by reason of the cold,” 20:4) his character suffers as much as his business, so that he is implied in 15:19 to be fundamentally dishonest…
Consequently he is restless (13:4; 21:25, 26) with unsatisfied desire; helpless in face of the tangle of his affairs, which are like a “hedge of thorns” (15:19); and useless—expensively (18:9) and exasperatingly (10:26)—to any who must employ him…
The wise man will learn while there is time. He knows that the sluggard is no freak, but, as often as not, an ordinary man who has made too many excuses, too many refusals and too many postponements. It has all been as imperceptible, and as pleasant, as falling asleep. (pp. 42-43).
Asked about the dismal jobs projection, one congressman from New York hailed the news as good for families. He assured us this is a matter of "family values." In a rather brief sound bite he used the phrase "family values" at least 3 times. He seemed excited to finally use the phrase. But it was like watching a child ride a bike for the first time: awkward and a bit dangerous.
Other politicians and left-wing columnists are touting what would be horrible news in a sane world as the thing which will finally liberate Americans from the tyranny of work. Now we will have choices, we are told. We can finally have time to take a pottery class or work on that novel or search for the perfect cup of coffee.
One of the signs of a sick society is that it makes virtues of what ought to be stigmatized and stigmatizes virtues. Now it appears that the man who works full-time is actually a cad for not spending enough time with his family.
Now is the time when I annoy my Two Kingdom friends - The church should say something about this. This is so because what our politicians are saying is downright wicked. It is a further marring of the image of God upon humanity. It is an attack upon God's image-bearers just as are abortion and the normalization of homosexuality. To rob a man of work is to rob him of his dignity. To treat work as a tyrant and then use the machinations of public policy to remove all incentive to work is evil.
This is bad for people. It's bad for those Scripture identifies as our neighbors. Therefore the church ought to, in the words of Dylan Thomas, rage, rage against the dying of the light. We ought to push back against the darkness for the sake of those who like the darkness. We ought to tell our elected officials (they work for us, you know) that when they attack God's image bearers they are doing something wicked. When they call evil good they are sinning and sin is bad for them and those they govern.
Cousin Eddie of the Vacation movies is well known for being out of work for decades. At one point his hapless wife explains that he is holding out for a management position. Only a political culture as corrupt as our own can make that farce a virtue.