In Bible Study in my Parish we have been reading through Genesis. This past evening we read of Lot and the horrifying results of his decision to pitch his tent toward Sodom. We also see in his life a significant spiritual problem: sloth, one of the seven deadly sins. Sloth is a sorrow, sadness, or aversion to the good things God offers. Rather than being joyful and zealous to obtain these gifts, the slothful person sees them as too much trouble to obtain and is averse to the changes such gifts might introduce into his life. This is clearly the case with Lot, who resists the attempts of God to rescue him and his family from the sinful city of Sodom, which is about to be destroyed. Let’s examine his struggle in several steps.
I. Roots – Lot’s personal troubles were many, but for our purposes his problems began when he “pitched his tent toward Sodom” (Gen 13:12). Abraham and Lot had grown very rich (almost never a good thing in the spiritual life) and realized that their flocks were so large that one part of the land could not sustain them both. Thus they agreed to live in different sectors. Abraham left the choice of areas to Lot, who (selfishly?) chose the better part for himself. The area where Sodom was is now a deep desert, but at that time the whole plain of the Jordan toward Zoar was well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt (Gen 13:10). And thus it was that Lot took his family and pitched his tent toward Sodom.
II. Risks – But Sodom was a wicked city, filled with false worship, greed, insensitivity to the poor, and the approval and practice of homosexuality. I will not be writing on that in detail in this post, as I have already done so in previous ones.
But here is the risk that Lot takes: he turns his face toward Sodom and willingly exposes his family to the grave moral threats there. And it does indeed affect them. Ultimately, his wife cannot bear to leave, looks back, and is lost. His daughters escape, but later engage in the grave sin of incest. Lot, too, will find it hard to flee Sodom, finding God’s offer to save him to be too much trouble. He’d rather stay, whatever the risk.
If you’re going to swim in muddy water, you’re going to get muddy. And that mud gets in your ears and in your soul. This is what Lot risks and what results when he pitches his tent toward Sodom.
Many of us, too, think little about the risks that television, the internet, music, and culture pose to us and our children. Too easily we risk our eternal salvation and that of our children by pitching our tent toward Sodom through easy commerce with a world that is poisonous to our faith. Even if some things are troublesome, many of us make little effort draw back and limit, even in little ways, the influences that are contrary to our faith.
III. Resource – Lot has only one resource in his favor: Abraham is praying for his ne’er-do-well nephew. He asks God’s destroying angel to spare Lot and his family (Gen 19). God agrees to this and acts to save Lot in spite of himself. Really, it’s the only thing that saves Lot.
It is true that Lot was just, in the sense that he did not approve of the sin around him. But neither did he act to really protect himself or his family from it. Something about Sodom appealed to him. Perhaps he thought he could make money there (or perhaps the trains ran on time). Whatever the benefits, Lot weighed them more heavily than the risks.
And so, too, for many today, who leave the TV on no matter the risk because it entertains or has some other perceived benefit that outweighs the obvious risks. Or those for whom it’s just too much trouble to monitor the websites their children visit or the music they listen to.
It really is only Abraham’s prayers that save Lot, who would live with sinners, from dying along with them. Thus, don’t forget the power of prayer for some of the “ne’er-do-wells” you may know. God may act to save them before the Day of Judgment simply because you prayed for them.
IV. Root Sin – But here comes the heart of the story: sloth. The angel warns, “Flee!” But Lot hesitates. Fleeing is hard work; it means leaving things behind that you like. Perhaps Lot thinks, “Maybe the warnings of destruction are overblown; maybe it won’t really be so bad.” Here is what the story says:
As dawn was breaking, the angels urged Lot on, saying, “On your way! Take with you your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away in the punishment of Sodom.” When he hesitated, the men, by the LORD’s mercy, seized his hand and the hands of his wife and his two daughters and led them to safety outside the city. As soon as they had been brought outside, he was told: “Flee for your life! Don’t look back or stop anywhere on the Plain. Get off to the hills at once, or you will be swept away!” “Oh, no, my lord!” Lot replied, “You have already thought enough of your servant to do me the great kindness of intervening to save my life. But I cannot flee to the hills to keep the disaster from overtaking me, and so I shall die. Look, this town ahead is near enough to escape to. It’s only a small place. Let me flee there–it’s a small place, is it not?– that my life may be saved.” “Well, then,” he replied, “I will also grant you the favor you now ask. I will not overthrow the town you speak of. Hurry, escape there! I cannot do anything until you arrive there.” That is why the town is called Zoar (Gen 19:15-21).
Wow, this is sloth with a capital “S”! So lazy and settled in with sin has Lot become, that he’d rather accept death than expend the effort to flee. Not only that, he can’t even manage to rouse himself in order to save his family. It’s all just too much trouble. Sloth is sorrow, sadness, or aversion.
Thanks to Abraham’s prayers, the angels literally drag Lot and his family out of the city and repeat the warning: “Flee!” God who made you without you, will not save you without you. So Lot must cooperate. But still, Lot sees it as all just too much trouble. In effect, he says, “Man, those hills look far away. And they’re not nearly as nice as this valley. It’s going to take a lot of effort to get there. Do I really have to go that far?”
And here is another aspect of sloth: compromising with evil despite knowing the danger. Even if it occurs to many that some things in their lives need to change, they try to minimize those changes. The Lord tells us that we cannot serve two masters, that we cannot serve both the world and Him. In other words, we must decisively choose God over the demands of this world whenever there is a conflict. But many, realizing that this may introduce uncomfortable situations or have financial impacts, begin to negotiate with their conscience, saying, “I’m basically serving God … well, at least mostly. Maybe it’s enough if I do a few holy things and serve God for the most part. And then I can still serve the world and enjoy its fruits, too. Maybe I’ll serve God 80% and the world 20%. Hmm … well, maybe that’s a little too ambitious. After all I have a career and I don’t want to risk that promotion. How about if I serve God 60% and the world 40%? Is that enough?”
Thank God for His mercy! (And thank Abraham for his prayers.) We are a real mess. As the text shows, God will take the little he can get from Lot, at least for now, in order to save him. But God shouldn’t have to take this from us. Only grace and mercy can spare us from ourselves.
V. Results – But note this: grace and mercy need to have their effect. We cannot go on in sloth forever. We have to allow God to heal this deep drive of sin in us or we will be destroyed. Lot is saved for now, but great tragedy is still in store for him. His wife will turn back in longing for Sodom and be lost. His daughters cannot get Sodom out of them and will later turn to incest (Gen 19:30ff). And from this incest will be born the ancestors of the enemies who will later afflict Israel: the Moabites and the Ammonites.
And what of us today? What role have we played in pitching our tents toward Sodom? What happens to us and to our children and grandchildren when all we do is express shock at the condition of the world but expend little real effort to protect ourselves from it or actively change it? What happens to us when we learn to live off the fruits of our Sodom, and make easy compromises with the world in terms of greed, insensitivity to the poor, and sexual confusion? What happens when God’s plan to rescue us through the gifts of chaste living, generosity, and more simple living, is rejected as too much trouble or as requiring us to give up too many things that we like? Many think to themselves, “I know my favorite television show has bad scenes, but I like the story line and I want to find out what happens at the end of the season. I know I should be clearer and firmer with my children, but that leads to conflict and I hate conflict, and besides they’ll complain if they can’t have a smart phone. And it’s so much trouble trying to monitor their Internet activity. And … and … and …”
What happens when we do this, when we slothfully reject God’s offer of a better, less-compromised way? Well, we don’t have look far; we know what happens. We and the people we love get lost, wounded, corrupted, confused, and even die, both physically and spiritually.
The virtues opposed to sloth are zeal and joy. Zeal for God’s truth and the beauty of holiness, and a joyful pursuit of the life God offers us are gifts to be sought. Sloth is very pernicious and has cumulative effects. We haven’t done well, collectively speaking. It’s time to turn more zealously to God, to appreciate the truth of what He has always taught. It’s time to gratefully, joyfully study His ways, and live them and share them with others.
Here, then, is a study of sloth in the life of Lot, a lesson more necessary and urgent today than ever before.
Interesting too for our times, the one day we should rest, we don’t. Here’s an old song from the Moody Blues that recalls Sunday rest:
7 Replies to “A Study of Sloth in the Life of Lot”
Under correction, and admiring your application to our situation of the dangers of sloth, I think you do not do justice to St. Lot in this explication. Is there not in the Second letter of St. Peter (2:5-9) an implication that “justum Lot” (vv. 7-8) was. like St. Noah, “justitiae praeconem”, a “preacher of justice” (v. 5) among the Sodomites – as indeed Genesis 19:7-8 demonstrate him being, very actively and apparently under threat of being raped to death himself (v. 9)? And is his delay informed by the attempt to save others who might listen – in response to the angels’ explicit question (vv. 12-14)? Might that tender concern for his “sons in law” have moved him to continue to linger even after their rejection of his appeal (v. 16)? In any case, as you quote, even as St. Abraham’s prayer saved St. Lot and his family (and would have saved Sodom, had there been six more as “just” as them (18:23-32) ), so St. Lot’s prayer (19: 18-23) saved the whole city of “Bala” (14:8), thereafter called “a little one” – Zoar, and later to become the center of a diocese (today titular).
Sancte Lot, ora pro nobis!
Mental illness, personality disorders to downright “screaming violent crazy” have run in my family for at least 3 generations.
I am the most “normal” of my family but have struggled with depression all my life.
Intellectually I know I am blessed, and have been a teacher most of my working life, and volunteered to teach and do other work in the Church. I am happy to be a Catholic, and pray for those of the family I married into mostly non-Catholic) but there is so much more I could have done in my life if I had the mental energy not sapped by depression; I do not feel the emotions of happiness or sadness, though I appear normal and with others laugh at their jokes, engage in lively conversations, etc.
I have always castigated myself for procrastination and laziness, but I haven’t been able to conquer it by “will power” and even now, age 70, regret that my taxes are as usual late and my files a permanent mess, but cannot force myself to sort them out needing help from other family members who are annoyed even though I pay them to do this. Years ago I went to a psychiatrist, but it was a waste of time and money,. I take no meds nor antidepressants,– which just turn me into a zombie..
I know God will judge me for this, as I can always self-justify inaction as “depression.” But, I think there is a large blurry grey area between sloth (a sin) and depression ( a chemical imbalance in the brain). And I can’t tell where the boundary is.
I have never heard any spiritual advisor address this problem, of depression-acedia, and it is unsatisfactory.
(I think it would take a holy priest who is also an MD, and maybe an exorcist?)
I trust to the mercy of God; but unless I am blessed enough to have the “apostolic pardon” on my death-bed, (and most priests don’t know what it is) anticipate a long Purgatory “doing the things I neglected” until I have repaid the time I have wasted over a lifetime. God is merciful, I hope my sins will not keep me from His face too long.
I am sure there are countless Catholics out there like me.
HAJ…Praying for you! Please read
Unbound by Neal Lozano
Be Healed by Bob Schuchts..
these two books are changing my life from previously thinking I was not worthy of the promises of Christ since things never seemed to change through prayer. That is so not true. Praying for the healing the Lord has in store for you. God bless you dear HAJ!
Thank you for your exposition on the sin of sloth and how it relates to Lot. I have always related to Lot. Because the Scripture says he was so wealthy that there was not enough land for 2 families, I consider him to be a good businessman and an intellegent trader rather than slothful. He needs creative people with whom to interact. Although I am not wealthy, I need people, too. As far as not wanting to leave everything behind, I can understand that, too. The things, themselves, are unimportant. It is the life that they served that is. Here I am, in my late 70’s, a great-grandmother, and I still don’t want to let go. Someone may come over to play the piano one more time. Thirty people may come to Christmas again, even though I don’t have the energy to prepare for them anymore. I already have 3 sons in the grave. I am preparing for that now. Still, even if an angel takes me by the hand, I may or may not want to go.
As for the 2 responses regarding evangelization and depression, they are both excellent explanations and equally important in personal impact. I have suffered and rejoiced through both of those situations. God is good!
The following books deal with acedia more thoroughly and, in my view, more insightfully, including clearly distinguishing between acedia/despondency (“sloth”) and depression:
The Noonday Devil: Acedia, the Unnamed Evil of Our Times Kindle Edition
by Jean-Charles Nault
Time and Despondency: Regaining the Present in Faith and Life Kindle Edition
by Nicole Roccas
Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life Kindle Edition
by Kathleen Norris
The first two I have read and am re-reading Roccas’ book now. Norris’ book I have not read but seen and heard good things about it.
Thank you for this meditation on Lot and his family.
There is a further connection between his refusal to “head for the Hills” and the incestual generation of Ammon and Moab.
We are told that the reason Lot’s daughters lay with him is that they thought they were the last people left alive. If they had fled to the mountains when they were told, they would have found Abraham waiting for them. and been reunited with him. Instead, by indulging themselves and hiding in Zoar first, they missed him and made this terrible mistake.
Noah was a preacher of righteousness, who bore witness to holiness *
Lot was equitable (in character or act); by implication, innocent | but nonetheless vexed by the Sodomites, pained, subjected to toil, tormented**. So there was no praeconem in his justitiae, no witness.
* dikaiosunhV | khruka | efulaxen
righteousness | to judge against, i.e. sentence:–condemn | by way of isolation; to watch, i.e. be on guard, avoid
** dikaioV | basanizo
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