Sabbath Sloth

by Elouise

Sloth from

When I was studying theology in the late 1970s, I got excited about Karl Barth’s descriptions of sin. Weird? Maybe. At any rate, I’ve been thinking about one sin in particular—sloth. It’s one of the seven deadly sins. Often understood as laziness, as aptly demonstrated in the photo above.

It all started with my post about the mouth of a labyrinth. I was trying to imagine what being chewed up by God might look like right now in my life. It didn’t take long to come up with my decision to begin keeping Sabbath.

In fact, this effort around Sabbath-keeping has thrown my life into some disorder. I still don’t know exactly where I am or where I’m going with it. I just know I’m working it out. One Sunday at a time.

Or perhaps God is working me over in the labyrinth. Reorienting my entire life by means of this one day a week. Chewing up what I’ve been doing with it and the rest of the week, digesting it and then spitting me out as a changed woman. Not a different person, but with a different sense about my relationships with God, other people, creation itself, and the limited time I’ve been given.

So what does sloth have to do with it? Karl Barth says a lot about the sins of pride and sloth. He says that most of the time we focus on pride as the big problem. We may even try to downplay sloth.

  • What’s so horrible about sloth? Isn’t it just laziness? OK, it might have a dark side since it means things don’t get done that need to be done. But it isn’t that bad, is it?
  • Pride is different. It’s active, aggressive, confrontational. It shakes its fist in our faces and demands more attention. It hurts people when it tries to put others down and get all the glory as if it were God.
  • But sloth? I’ll admit it’s annoying. Especially when people don’t do their fair share on time the way I do! But it isn’t actively harmful. It’s more like the absence or failure of something. Isn’t it?

Yet Barth suggests that sloth may, in fact, be the root of pride. Yes, it may look harmless or annoying. But it really means someone wills not to know God, thus contradicting the good will of God.

Instead, sloth creates its own reality and lives within it. It doesn’t take positive action. Rather, it chooses to live in its own inaction in relation to God. Which, of course, affects relationships with other people, creation itself, and time.

Thus sloth goes about its own business as though God didn’t exist. Barth suggests that if pride is evil action (to displace God), sloth is evil inaction (to ignore God).

Actually, it can get a bit subtle. Here’s my imaginary conversation with God:

  • I know You said You expect me to stop my regular routine and bask in the joy and delight of Sabbath and all creation. I agree that I need this. But can’t You see I’m busy with your work? I can’t afford to stop for one full day to bask in anything, because I’m busy taking care of it!
  • What do you mean I’m being slothful? I’m exhausted from doing good and helping other people and cleaning the house. If I stop for 24 hours just to focus on Sabbath joy and delight for one full day, I’ll just get farther and farther behind on my agenda for You!
  • Oh. Did I say my agenda for You? Sorry. I didn’t really mean to say that. I know. I’m not You. Just a slip of the tongue.

Fortunately and unfortunately, God knows me better than I know myself. God also longs for me to stop, look around and actively appreciate God’s handiwork. I’ve been given 6 other days in the week for other things.

Today I need nothing more or less than Sabbath rest. If it looks like I’m being slothful, so be it. If it feels to me as though I’m being slothful, so be it. I’m learning to live with it.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 June 2015
Image from