There’s an old expression, seldom used today although I remember the old folks used it sometimes when I was young, “May you sleep the sleep of the just.” When my Great Aunt Polly used it, she meant simply, “May you sleep well.” But more richly and historically, the phrase speaks to a serenity that comes from having a quiet conscience, a conscience that is untroubled by the burden of unconfessed and unrepentant sin. A serene and clean conscience is an untroubled conscience, and thus we can sleep well and deeply.
Despite any claims that sinners have all the fun, the reality is that they really do not and cannot. Sin brings with it many burdens, among them a troubled conscience. Whatever efforts some make to try to suppress their consciences, deep down there is still that voice of God echoing in the heart of every person, the still, small voice of God, who has written his law into our hearts. Unrepentant sin and the bold, prideful attitude that insists on calling “good” or “no big deal” what God calls sin, are not the ingredients of a serene conscience and do not permit the sleep of the just.
In addition to a troubled conscience and stress, sin also brings many other complications to life. For example,
- Intemperance and gluttony bring addiction and a whole host of problems that go with such addiction.
- Alcohol and drug addictions are surely legendary for the troubles they bring. But excess (gluttony) in relation to food also brings terrible struggles such as diabetes, hypertension, joint pain and arthritis, and a sluggish mind.
- Sins of lust bring many stressful and tragic situations into life such as sexually transmitted diseases (including AIDS), abortion, divorce, and single motherhood.
- Fornicators and adulterers often pay, literally, for their sins through alimony, child support to different women, etc.
- The sin of vanity makes people slaves to the mirror and they become obsessed and worry constantly about what others think of them.
- Liars and deceivers live with the constant anxiety of being found out.
Yes, sin brings many stresses and crushing burdens. Much better, happier, and simpler is your life by resisting sin. It brings a serene conscience and the sleep of the just. A sinful life brings with it burdens, sleepless anxieties, and dissipation. Sin always promises happiness, but then sends the bill.
Pope St. Gregory the Great has some powerful words in this regard in his Pastoral Rule, especially regarding liars and deceivers. His references to the “insincere” are to those who lie, deceive, or live double lives:
The insincere are to be advised that they learn how heavy is the load of duplicity, which they sinfully bear. And because they fear being discovered, they always seek dishonest defenses and become agitated by fearful suspicions. But there is nothing that is safer for one’s defense and nothing easier than speaking the truth. For when one is forced to defend his deceit, his heart becomes wearied from the endeavor. Thus it is written, “The mischief of their lips overwhelms them!” (Psalm 140:9) … Because they refuse to live in sincerity, they will labor their whole life until death … always hiding what they are … struggling to excuse those sins that have already been made known … Let the insincere hear what is written: “Whoever walks in integrity, walks securely. But whoever takes crooked paths will be found out!” (Proverbs 10:9). (Pastoral Rule III.11)
Perhaps it is best to end with those words of St. Gregory and with this wish: may you sleep the sleep of the just!