H. G. Bohn wrote the famous adage, “An idle brain is the devil’s workshop,” which first appeared in his Handbook of Proverbs published in 1855. Since that time, it has undergone several embellishments with a word or phrase substituted to add emphasis or to make it more current. Regardless, Bohn’s saying has entered the English lexicon as an idiom, which everyone quotes as if it is a biblical verse. To be sure, the bible addresses the message behind Bohn’s proverb. That is where I am headed.
King Solomon lived over 2000 years before Bohn, and he wrote that “slothfulness casts into a deep sleep and an idle person will suffer hunger” (Proverbs 19:15, ESV). It is a stern warning, but it is also necessary. Men and women have been created to work, to engage in productive tasks with our hands and minds. I know that my life and the lives of others may not always seem to carry any real significance or lasting weight. What I do know is that I have seen the principle of Solomon’s proverb at work in my life and in those around me.
There is something to be said for moving forward in life one step at a time. It is important to balance work with times of rest. Sometimes the latter may require one to pause or stop. Once the batteries recharge, then it is time reengage with life in whatever capacity that lies before me. Suppose I decide to linger in the rest? I might even find it comfortable, which may lead to complacency and then slothfulness or laziness. Before I know it, my condition is like a deep sleep. I lack all awareness of what is going around me and within me. Danger Will Robinson, Danger!
At some point, I need to start moving forward again. It is difficult to move something that is motionless. When a car sits parked for a few days, it does not start up like it would had it been driven. The engine goes cold, and all the moving parts bind together due to neglect. Solomon’s proverb states that laziness, which leads to spiritual slumber, causes one to experience actual poverty. The spiritual condition manifests itself in the physical realm. Here is another way to look at this text. The lazy behavior springs up from an idle heart or spirit. It is the condition of the inner man that is at issue.
According to Genesis 2:15, God created man with the inborn gift and drive to work with his hands and mind. Adam had two tasks: name the animals and take care of the Garden of Eden. Laziness was not an option. Procrastination was not an option. Resting was an option because God himself observed a Sabbath rest from his work of creation. In a fundamental way, work and rest go hand in hand. It is true that Adam’s fall undercut his ability and the ability of his descendants to be productive with work. Christ’s work of redemption undoes the curse, but the full release awaits his second coming (Romans 8:19-21, ESV).
There are aspects of my work, which can have meaning in this present life. It is also true that there will be times of futility, too. Both things are true at various points in my life. According to Christ’s words from the sermon on the mount, work that has lasting meaning and relevance has as its source the Kingdom of heaven (Matthew 6:19-21, ESV). This places an emphasis on my values, which influence my priorities. Who do I serve or work for in this life, God or mammon (Matthew 6:24, ESV)? If my life in Christ began in him, then it must continue in him, too. How could I believe and live contrary to that truth?
Before I wrap this up, I want to say one final thing about the word idle. In the original Hebrew, the word carries a much stronger meaning, which is either indolent or remiss. The idea is being negligent or careless with one’s responsibilities. Poverty grows out of such behavior. I need to distinguish here between poverty caused by one’s negligence or idleness versus a condition imposed upon a people through political and economic oppression. Solomon addresses the former condition not the latter. It is important to keep that distinction in mind. The Spirit of God through Solomon warns against an idle life. The consequencces are dire, but Christ is the answer.