In Bible study in my parish, we have been reading through Genesis. On Jan. 12 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.
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 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)
But Sodom was a wicked city, filled with false worship, greed, insensitivity to the poor, and the approval and practice of homosexuality. By turning his face toward Sodom, Lot 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.
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 ears and our soul. Even if some things are troublesome, many of us make little effort to draw back and limit, even in little ways, the influences that are contrary to our faith.
Lot also 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. (Gn 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, and he weighed that 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.
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.”
The story says that Lot, although he recognized the Lord’s kindness in saving them, asks to change the plan and flee to a smaller and closer town than the one the Lord had planned for him to escape to. That 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. 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. 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. … 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.
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 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 smartphone. And … and … and …”
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.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor
of Holy Comforter – St. Cyprian Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.
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