The Deadly Sin of Sloth

The Deadly Sin of Sloth

What exactly is sloth? I’m not talking about the two-toed creature.

What is Sloth in the Seven Sins?

Sloth can look like this:

  • Hitting the snooze button repeatedly
  • Drinking straight from the milk jug
  • Leaving dirty clothes on the floor
  • A love affair with the remote control
  • Never returning calls or writing thank-you notes
  • Leaving exactly two sheets on the toilet paper roll
  • Falling asleep every night in front of the TV
  • Living for sports
  • Tenured professors coasting intellectually
  • Troubled marriages passing on the marriage retreat
  • Knowing TV characters better than family members
  • Preaching other people’s sermons
  • Wandering the mall, killing time, mastering small talk
  • Amusing ourselves to death
  • Letting discipline slide
  • Indifference



Spiritual amnesia.

A deadly sin.

That’s sloth.

Deadly Sin of Sloth Began in the Garden

Every deadly sin has its origin in Eden. The feeding cycle of the garden is simple. Empty. Full. Empty. Full. With the repetitiveness of a ticking clock, humans live their lives in cycles. Morning. Evening. Morning. Evening. Sleep. Work. Sleep. Work. The connection between creature and creator is rhythmic. And the chief end of man is to worship God and enjoy him forever.

Adam and Eve want more. If they can transcend their humanity, they will not be bound to the cycle of human living. They can escape the routine. The snake tells them it is possible. Eat from the tree in the center of the garden and they can make their own arrangements. They can reinvent the wheel, which hasn’t even been invented yet. Life can follow their whims and wishes. They would be independent creatures, filling their lives with excitement on demand.

So they ate.

And they were still empty inside. So they began to stuff themselves—food, TV, X Box, the latest Grisham novel, South Beach Diet, stock market, power shopping, sexual conquest, idol worship, “Survivor”—anything to fill the void. We’ve always been prone to destroying ourselves when left to ourselves.

Slowly, something begins to happen to us as we keep filling the God-shaped hole with stuff. We grow tired, cynical, weary, and numb. All these momentary diversions and thrills no longer excite. An emptiness settles in and it won’t go away. Despair follows. We no longer care. We no longer feel responsible. We no longer want to try.

Some deadly sins can be done in a flash. We have to work up to sloth. Like cement, it takes awhile to harden.

Some say sloth finds us mid-life. Until then we’re too busy chasing forbidden fruit. Such fruit must be tasted and digested several times before we despair of it. Sloth is the last of the deadly sins to arrive. That’s why it is thought of as a mid-life sin. But then, I work on a university campus and I’ve seen some young versions of the old sin. Just writing about it makes me tire and want to stop writing. Do you feel heavy, weighed down? Let’s go fill the void with a snack. Oops. Gluttony seems to serve sloth quite handily.

God’s Response to The Deadly Sin of Sloth? Daily Routine

We want magic fruit, a miracle formula, an instant fix, a change-your-life-forever seminar. But God gives us daily routines. We came from dust, we farm dust, we eat food from dust, which returns to dust by way of the public sewer system, until we follow the food we eat back into the grave. Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes. So goes our life under the sun.

It’s easy to see why Adam and Eve didn’t like the arrangement. Dependent life can be monotonous. Get up. Brush your teeth. Deal with your whiskers one way or the other. Bathe a body that won’t stay clean. Feed yourself through one inlet and empty yourself through others. Gas up a car that will soon be empty again. Wash clothes that will need to be washed again. Drive the same road that you will return on. Fill out a report, again. Do the lesson plan that you will do for another class this time next year. Shine a light in an ear. Open the hood. Call a prospect. Open the store. Keep the assembly line running. Start the sermon.

Routine. Life is made up of routine. Sloth has it easy.

Bored with life, we begin to shirk our responsibilities, care less. We hate life in this armpit town. We resent the demands people make of us. We want to be left alone in our deserved apathy.

The routines that bore us are the places that God has promised to meet with us. The routines we want to be done with are the places where God becomes flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth. We want instant excitement; God gives us our daily bread. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23, NRSV). Hope in the Lord, child, now and forever. Our path to an eternally exciting tomorrow is through the routines of today.

Ours is a God of pots and pans, lesson plans, common work, daily bread, care for the neighbor, care for the body. The things we wish to transcend are God’s sacred meeting places. Sloth would just as soon skip the encounter. Sloth has already decided that no good thing can come out of responsible routines.

God is the beginning and end of our journey out of sloth. It begins when a light of hope penetrates the stupor of sloth’s gloom. “I woke, my dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose went forth and followed Thee.” Maybe that’s how it happens. The grace that precedes our freedom penetrates the darkness of despair. The move to liberate us begins outside us. Sloth exhausts the capacity to try. We need saving, and we will not save ourselves. Because we simply can’t.

Today’s post is an excerpt from Seven Deadly Sins.

Click here to read all the posts in my blog series, “Seven Deadly Sins.”


  1. Trying to understand the seven deadly sins in the phases of suicide… My thoughts or questions is does a person that commits suicide have they done or disobeyed most of the 10 commandments & have moved into the seven deadly sins before taking their own life as a last resort?

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