This is the sixth of a multi-part series on the Seven Deadly Sins written by Father Robert Wills, Canon Theologian of the Mid-South Diocese, ICCEC. A new part will be posted on a regular basis. As a note, Canon Wills notes these are the Seven Deadly Sins recognized by a group of monks in the 5th Century.
6. Accidie or Sloth—A Form of Despair Keeping God’s Purposes In One’s Life from Being Fulfilled.
Envy often produces another deadly sin—that of sloth, which comes from the ancient term accidie. This term, translated “sloth” in the Bible is the biblical term for despair and depression, which keeps people from being fulfilled and from fulfilling God’s purposes in their lives. It is a spiritual listlessness that causes us to fail to respond to God. They withdraw from Christian fellowship, make little effort to worship, and use all manner of excuse to keep from actively participating in the work of God’s Kingdom.
Slothful describes a loose, undisciplined person. The Hebrew term can refer to a bow not strung or equipped with an arrow for action (Ps. 78:57; Hos. 7:16). A same or related Hebrew root describes a loose tongue or mind as deceitful (Job 13:7; 27:4; Pss. 32:2; 52:4; Mic. 6:12).
Look at what Proverbs 6 says about an envious and slothful person.
Prov 6:6 Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise,
Prov 6:7 Which, having no captain, Overseer or ruler,
Prov 6:8 Provides her supplies in the summer, And gathers her food in the harvest.
Prov 6:9 How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep?
Prov 6:10 A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to sleep;
Prov 6:11 So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, And your need like an armed man.
Prov 6:12 A worthless person, a wicked man, Walks with a perverse mouth;
Prov 6:13 He winks with his eyes, He shuffles his feet, He points with his fingers;
Prov 6:14 Perversity is in his heart, He devises evil continually, He sows discord.
Prov 6:15 Therefore his calamity shall come suddenly; Suddenly he shall be broken without remedy.
Prov 6:16 These six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
Prov 6:17 A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood,
Prov 6:18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil,
Prov 6:19 A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.
A second Hebrew term refers to that which is difficult, heavy, hindered and indicates foolish laziness or sluggishness. The tribe of Dan was encouraged to take the new territory and not be slothful or reluctant (Judg. 18:9). The wise, hardworking ant illustrates the opposite of sloth (Prov. 6:6), while the slothful wants only to sleep (Prov. 6:9; compare 10:26; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30; 26:16). The virtuous woman is the opposite of slothful, not having to live with the results of idle sloth (Prov. 31:27). Ecclesiastes apparently coined a word for slothfulness twice over and the resulting decay of present gain (10:18). Jesus condemned a wicked, slothful servant (Matt. 25:26) but praised and rewarded the “good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23).
The slothful person cannot lead but becomes subjected to another’s rule.
Prov 18:9 He who is slothful in his work Is a brother to him who is a great destroyer.
Prov 10:4 He who has a slack hand becomes poor, But the hand of the diligent makes rich.
Prov 10:5 He who gathers in summer is a wise son; He who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame.
God’s work must not be done in such a spirit.
Jer 48:10 Cursed is he who does the work of the LORD deceitfully, And cursed is he who keeps back his sword from blood.
Eccl 10:18 Because of laziness the building decays, And through idleness of hands the house leaks.
St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Church concerning accidie, referring to those infected by slothfulness, as being “disorderly” and unwilling to work.
2 Th 3:7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you;
2 Th 3:8-9 nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.
2 Th 3:10-11 For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies.
2 Th 3:12-13 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.
When not confessed as sins, sloth (accidie) and envy lead to despair. That sense of utter hopelessness that characterizes those whose spirits have been so crushed by tragic events or by their own guilt that they do not see any meaning to their lives. In the Scriptures despair is described in such rich but bitter terms and images as “languish,” “wailing,” “anguish,” “terror,” “desolation,” “gloom,” “dwelling in darkness,” “cowering in ashes,” “torn to pieces,” “wormwood and gall,” “teeth grinding on gravel,” “depths of the pit,” “soul in tumult,” “gnashing of teeth,” or “heavy chains” Jeremiah’s sense of despair is recorded in Lamentations 3:5-20.
Events can strike with such devastating force that both Job and Jeremiah curse the day of their birth and wish they had died in delivery (Job 3:3ff.; Jer. 20:14-18). As the saying went, Rachel in Ramah laments and weeps bitterly for her children and refuses to be comforted (Jer. 31:15). Koheleth despairs of the seeming vanity and injustice of human striving (Eccles. 2:20).
Paul describes his own life as reaching the border of despair in his helplessness before the law and the desertion, persecution, and perplexity that the life of faith brings. Yet he proclaims confidence in the power of Christ to deliver from sin, and he affirms that the Christian’s precarious walk of faith does not ultimately lead to despair and destruction but rather brings life and joy (Rom. 7:7-25; 2 Cor. 4:8-12; see also Rom. 8:35-39).
That the Christian often lives near the edges of despair was noted by Augustine and theologically developed by Martin Luther. Luther maintained that despair is a redeeming force in the salvation of the sinner. The believer shudders before the crucified Christ as he or she experiences with Christ the painful withdrawal of God in the face of human sin. Luther asserted, “All honest and pious Christians are like Jonah; they are thrown into the sea, yes, into the depths of hell…All saints must also descend with their Lord into the inferno.” Nevertheless, at the cross the Christian also recognizes the overwhelming love of God expressed in Christ’s sacrificial death. Thus, in the very midst of that despair caused by God’s turning away from the Son who bears the world’s sins, God’s love is most fully comprehended and experienced.
A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose. Her mother took her to the kitchen.
She filled three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word. In about twenty minuets she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.
Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied. She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked. “What’s the point, mother?”
Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity–boiling water–but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. the ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.
“Which are you?” she asked her daughter. ” When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot , an egg, or a coffee bean?” Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength? Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after death , a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart? Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level?
It is not unusual for Christians to be driven to the edges of darkness because of unforeseen tragic events or heinous sins they or others have committed. However, the children of God never lose hope by dwelling on the question “Why?” Rather, they humbly accept God’s sovereignty and God’s justifying acts with fortitude and with the expectation that they are instruments of God’s redemptive change in a fragmented and misery filled world.