Friday, July 26, 2019

The Sloth and Misery of Man

1. The Person of Sin in the Light of the Lordship of the Son of Man
We are shameful before God because our holiness cannot compare with the holiness of God revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. We might do well when compared with others or when judged according to some abstract moral code. But our shameful existence as sinners is exposed as such when we compare ourselves with Jesus Christ who was the one truly human being in his freedom for God. We are shamed by Jesus Christ whether or not we know it or respond to it by being ashamed or not. Both Pharisee and tax collector were equally shameful before God, but only one humbly asked God for mercy (Luke 18:9f.). We are shamed by Jesus Christ and ashamed of ourselves when the light of Christ’s lordship shines upon us, when his Spirit critically directs us, when we participate in knowledge of him and therefore of ourselves.

In the light of Jesus Christ our Lord, we Christians learn that, even in our better moments, all of us as humans set ourselves in opposition to Jesus Christ. We may know ourselves in the characteristic relationships with Jesus Christ established by all the people of the New Testament. In their abandoning, denying, and betraying of Jesus Christ, they reveal our opposition to him in all its ignoble mediocrity.

In his light, we learn that even apparently good and decent people like ourselves act shamefully. We cannot defend ourselves as basically good because Jesus Christ has freed us from this triviality. What we may be tempted to consider as normal caution or indifference is revealed in relation to him to be evil ingratitude. The person indifferent to Jesus Christ is like a pardoned prisoner who refuses to leave his cell. Any attempt to justify such truly abnormal indifference is itself shameful.

So in his light we learn, thirdly, that even otherwise fine people like ourselves are truly sinners. As Christians, we know ourselves and all people only in Christ. Jesus Christ identified with us as sinners, suffered our death in our place, and in so doing was exalted and exalted us to fellowship with God. To see ourselves exalted in Christ we must admit our abasement revealed in Christ. If we cannot admit our separation from God outside of Christ, we cannot participate in our reconciliation with God in Christ. If we cannot do that, it is only because we want to make Hell our home.

Finally, in Christ we learn that, as sinners and therefore as enemies of God, all were put to death in Christ to live as new creatures in Christ. So no excuse exists for continuing to live as sinners outside of Christ. Furthermore, the fact that God himself in Christ combatted sin indicates the absolute seriousness of its attack on God’s creation and therefore on God’s glory. God’s victory over sin and liberation of us from sin in Christ means that we receive our lives as new creatures as gifts of God’s grace, the grace which reveals our humiliation even as it reveals our exaltation.

2. The Sloth of Man
Pride is the Promethean form of sin, the evil action contrasted by the humbleness of the Word made flesh. Sloth is the unheroic form of sin, the evil inaction, contrasted by the exaltation of man in Christ. The Holy Spirit indicates a particular direction and in it a specific action. We do otherwise. Sloth is our refusal to do God’s will even if the form of our refusal is frenetic action in another direction.

Sin is unbelief. Pride expresses unbelief in God by wanting to be regarded as God and to act like God. Sloth expresses unbelief in God by not wanting to be bothered with God or by God. Oddly enough, as slothful people we may still be deeply religious, believing in life after death and worshiping a supreme being committed to the well-being of man. We will worship a tolerant God and be tolerant of God. But in Jesus Christ God is quite demanding, so our sloth will be exposed finally by our rejection of him.

We reject the divinity and humanity revealed in Jesus Christ because we do not wish to live in his distinctive freedom. We may not be perfect but we like to think of ourselves as good enough. We do what we can within the realm of reason and regard the demands of Jesus as idealistic and unrealistic. But this is only because we prefer the secure comfort of slavery to sin to the risky responsibility of lordship with Jesus Christ. We prefer self-orientation and self-direction to being Christ-centered and directed by his Spirit.

Sloth is sinful finally because, in rejecting Jesus Christ, we reject the God who comes to us in Christ, we reject the man who is truly our brother, and we even reject our own humanity and therefore contradict ourselves. Our slothful refusal of freedom in Christ expresses itself in our relationship to God as stupidity, to our fellow human beings as inhumanity, to ourselves as distraction, and to our own limitations as anxiety.

Sloth as stupidity is the rejection of our freedom in Christ to be for God.

Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh. As such it was his distinctive freedom to know God perfectly, to witness to God perfectly, and to determine us for participation in this same freedom. But through ignorance and unreason we refuse to be free for God and so remain stupid fools. In the Bible, fools are not the uneducated. Fools are people who feel no need to learn or live by God’s revelation. All we think, will, say, or do apart from God’s Word is stupid. Our foolishness is especially bad when we interpret Scripture in terms of our culture rather than allow our culture to be questioned by Scripture. Our stupidity is always dangerous because it spreads rapidly, is difficult to discern in oneself, rarely (if ever) appears undisguised, and appears so benign.

Folly is also absurd. The fool is free, but refuses to be free; he has eyes to see the light, but prefers to keep them closed and remain in darkness. The depth of folly is indicated by the fact that it always pretends to be wisdom. Paul calls this pretentious folly the wisdom of the world (1 Corinthians 1:20). It includes all knowledge of truth and reality possible to man outside of Jesus Christ and includes everything from happy commonsense to imposing expertise. Because God refuses to be without the fools who think they can live without him, even their apparent wisdom contains, within its limits, elements worthy of respect and consideration (cf. Philippians 4:8f.). The disadvantage of these elements is the excellent concealment of folly they provide. And regardless of the form this apparent wisdom takes, it always regards the cross of Christ as foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). This is easy enough to do in confrontation with an arrogant Christianity, but it remains a temptation even in the best of circumstances.

Sloth as inhumanity is the rejection of our freedom in Christ to be for others.

Jesus Christ is the one neighbor radically committed to the well-being of every human being. In Christ we love God wholly and others as Christ loves them. In Christ we glorify God and affirm their dignity. Jesus Christ is truly human because truly committed to the well-being of all. Nothing can change the fact that all of us are likewise directed in him. We only contradict ourselves, then, when we respond to others with hostile indifference or violent hostility. Sloth as inhumanity is this wanting to be alone instead of neighbor to others. It is this constant reserve toward others on the basis of which we interact not to be neighbor but only to further our own interests.

Beginning quietly enough as nothing more than this distorted attitude, inhumanity quickly grows and soon becomes a power all its own. Of course unleashing it may well enable us to gain control over others. But loosing it means accepting its domination because it inescapably subordinates us, our relations with others, and theirs with us, to the inflexible law of retaliation. Inhumanity may begin with only secret omissions or acts of indifference, but it passes rapidly enough through passive or active violations against another’s dignity and soon ends in open acts of destruction and death. This power is the same at each point along the way even if we normally recognize it only in its most extreme expressions. We do not need to become murderers before we live as slaves and victims of sloth—or before we need God’s grace in Christ to free us from it.

In brutality and war we clearly perceive the danger of inhumanity. Its real threat, however, lies in the fact that like stupidity it is so highly contagious. When someone treats us inhumanly, we are sorely tempted to respond inhumanly in retaliation. Yet if we do, we too fall victim to its power.

Even if we have fallen victim to inhumanity, we may still worsen our condition by self-deception. This self-deception is hypocrisy. It is our attempt to hide our inhumanity from God, from others, but finally from ourselves by calling it philanthropy. In this sense philanthropy is our devotion to a cause intended to improve the lot of others. The difference between genuine humanity and the counterfeit humanity of philanthropy is a subtle but significant one. Genuine humanity is our commitment to the well-being of specific human beings while philanthropy is our commitment to a cause. The difference is between helping a poor family and working to help “the poor” without ever establishing a relationship with a poor person. We can devote ourselves wholeheartedly to a cause, even offering our bodies to be burned (1 Corinthians 13:3), yet never once give a thought for anyone but ourselves. Indeed the more righteous our cause appears, the more inhuman we are apt to be. So, on our desire as Christians to proclaim and defend the truth, we often succumb to using the deadliest means.

Hypocrisy is generally quite effective. In our devotion to various causes and concerns, we usually succeed in convincing ourselves of our righteousness before God despite our real inhumanity. But from time to time circumstances conspire to strip the mask from our faces, and the truth again confronts us in all its starkness. But because these dangerous times come infrequently and pass—for all their horror—relatively quickly, we usually succeed in persuading ourselves that they were the exception and not the rule. During the otherwise routine times of our civilized society and lives, we reject those who nonetheless insist upon our inhumanity. We accuse them of an unhealthy pessimism, of being negative, of exaggerating evil and failing to recognize our basic goodness. So we busy ourselves with good works until the next conspicuous outbreak of inhumanity again forces us to pause.

Sloth as distraction is the rejection of our freedom in Christ to be ourselves.

Jesus Christ, by living according to the Spirit even in the flesh, lived a truly human life at peace with himself in body and soul. His soul freely ruled his body and his body freely served his soul. By his Spirit we too may live as truly human beings in this ordered unity of soul and body. When we reject our freedom in Christ, we live lives of distraction. But just as our rejection of God and neighbor does not make either go away, so God’s liberating direction to us in Christ to live in an ordered unity of soul and body constantly demonstrates the futility of our rebellious assertion of one at the expense of the other.

Even so, distraction is absurdly real. We do absurdly will the disintegration of our own nature. We do indulge ourselves instead of practicing self-discipline. We prefer the pleasant slavery of our own permissiveness to the rigorous freedom of God’s commands. We may be inclined to dismiss the soul as preserver of the body to pursue a purely spiritual life at the expense of the body. We may release the body from service to the soul so that it may follow its own desires. Either way we succumb to this power of weakness.

We also conceal this form of sin from ourselves. We do not want to live for God according to his will but only for ourselves according to the powerful weakness of the flesh. We hide this sloth behind the hypocritical rationalizations like claims of freedom or naturalness.

Sloth as anxiety is the rejection of our freedom in Christ from the fear of death.

Jesus Christ supremely demonstrated his freedom as the royal man by freely dying in obedience to God for the sake of man. In doing so he remained faithful to the bitter end and now lives eternally as Jesus the Victor. Jesus Christ awaits us at the moment of our death which itself is determined by God. So in Christ we may live courageously and die joyfully. We cannot add to our lifespan (Matthew 6:27) and God knows what we need to get by until then (Matthew 6:32).

But we fear getting by because we fear death. We are anxious about our limitations. This fear and anxiety, where there should be joyful certainty, is the sin of sloth.  We plunge ourselves into unrest. We demand assurances against possibilities we fear and assurances for possibilities we desire. We fear sources of insecurity and desire sources of security. We do this because we see nothingness awaiting us in death and not God. All our care is nothing but giving form to nothingness. It is the power of death in our life. But either we find joy and comfort in our end or we poison our lives fretting about it. Even so, God is committed to us even as sinners fearful of death. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything… (Philippians 4:5b-6a).

3. The Misery of Man
The Son of God humbled himself by joining us in the far country and brought us home in his exaltation as the Son of Man. Our failure to acknowledge this truth does not make it any less real for us in Christ. But it does leave us wallowing in the stupidity, inhumanity, distraction, and anxiety which exist outside of Christ. It therefore leaves us miserable. Freedom from this misery of sloth is ours only in Jesus Christ.

Misery is a fatal illness of which Jesus cured us by taking it upon himself and dying in our place to give us a new beginning as new creatures. In our sloth we absurdly prefer nothingness to God and self-contradiction to our own true humanity. In doing so we make ourselves miserable. But no matter how severe, this misery is only a weak reflection of the misery which Jesus Christ took upon himself and expressed in his cry of abandonment (Mark 15:34). And on the cross Jesus Christ revealed that we are miserable whether or not we know it or feel it. But whether we think misery is ours alone or never ours, it is ours whenever we allow ourselves to sink back into our past exile which was overcome in Christ. It remains ours so long as we remain indifferent to moments of grace offered to us by God. We are totally free in Christ; totally bound in ourselves outside of Christ; and know sanctification only in the total conflict between this freedom and this bondage.

Copyright © 2019 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.