Laziness has always been a blight to society, and society will always have its fair share of those who refuse to work.
Recognizing these facts, Solomon, the wise, wrote extensively on the subject.
Proverbs 22:13 reads: “The lazy man says, ‘There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets’!” (cf. Prov. 26.13).
There is much to be said with reference to this proverbial passage.
First, the lazy man has an overactive imagination.
I put it like that with tongue-in-cheek; after all, to describe a lazy man as overactive in anything is rather paradoxical. But, in this case, it is fitting.
To be sure, imagination is a blessed thing. God himself possesses the ability to envision things “which do not exist” (Rm. 4.17), and then, with pure creative power, to bring them into reality (cf. Gen. 1.3; Ps. 33.6, 9; 2 Cor. 4.6).
Indeed, by imagination, civilizations are built; diseases are eradicated; technology is invented making life a little easier; scientific advances are made enhancing our knowledge of and use of this world, etc. Imagination is a divine characteristic which inspires people both to survive and thrive.
However, imagination can also be a curse when it runs wild.
In this instance, the lazy man imagines his death ahead of time. On that basis, he refuses to leave the house to accomplish his chores.
It is also possible that the lazy man has imagined the lion itself — for the Proverbs writer does not say that the lazy man heard of the presence of a lion, or saw the beast, but that the lazy man said: “There is a lion outside!” Perhaps he had made up the threat in his heart to avoid his duties.
If the lion were a figment of the man’s imagination, then there was nothing in the realm of reality to hinder him from work. And imagining himself being “slain in the streets” is also hypothetical drivel.
In either case, then, imagination redounds to the lazy man’s hurt.
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) reminded us that true joy in life can only come from being dedicated to “the God of things as they are” (1892). In other words, imagination is useful; but it is foolish to deny reality or to allow imaginary monsters to influence our decisions (cf. Gen. 8.21; Prov. 28.26; Lk 1.51; Deut. 29.19-20ff; Jer. 3.17; 7.24; Rm. 1.21).
In like manner, Robert E. Lee exhorted his son to
“live in the world you inhabit. Look upon things as they are. Take them as you find them. Make the best of them. Turn them to your advantage” (Crocker, p. 16).
That is sage advice.
Accordingly, the true disciple of Christ will live in the realm of the real and true (John 14.6; 8.32 18.37), and will use imagination to improve upon reality rather than lazily let it go by (cf. Ecc. 9.10; Col. 3.23; John 9.4).
Second, the lazy man is industrious in seeking excuses.
Again, that is another paradox. If the lazy man could put as much energy into his work as he does with excuse-making, his productivity and self-esteem would improve mightily!
Suppose, then, that there actually was a lion outside. Suppose the excuse is grounded in reality as opposed to his fertile imagination. What then?
In that case, instead of shirking his chores, he should add to them. First, he should find a safe way to repel the lion. Next, he should prepare his homestead in the event of the lion’s return. Even when circumstances would hinder us, still there is work to do!
Some take the passage to mean: “There is a lion outside somewhere in the world!” On the basis of this remote threat, the lazy man convinces himself that he is prudent for staying in bed.
It is true that threats exist everywhere. And it is prudent to avoid danger out of fear (cf. Matthew 2.22; Prov. 14.16; 22.3; Acts 27.9ff). But it is folly to appeal to a far-flung threat that is unlikely to menace you as an excuse to remain inactive.
Even so, Christians should remember that having tasks to perform gives us purpose and meaning. A day of achievement is a sweet tonic for a night of restful sleep.
And while every Christian should struggle with finding ultimate fulfillment in a world we daily want to leave behind (cf. 1 John 2.15-17), still, a morning with tasks ahead (however small or arduous) can provide vim for the day and furnish us with a much-needed zest for this life (cf. 1 Peter 3.10-12).
Indeed, the Lord’s disciple will not make excuses to prevent him from doing the right thing, however real the excuse might be (cf. Lk 9.57-62). He will put his nose to the grind and get the job done (2 Thess 3.10ff).
It is by keeping our hands busy and having a mind to work that both the vain imaginations of our hearts and the poor excuses we put in our way will dissipate, and the sins that often ensue from our slothfulness will be turned into righteousness and good works.
“Go to the ant, you sluggard!
Consider her ways and be wise,
Which, having no captain,
Overseer or ruler,
Provides her supplies in the summer,
And gathers her food in the harvest.
How long will you slumber, O sluggard?
When will you rise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep—
So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man.” (Prov. 6.6-11).
Crocker III, H.W. Robert E. Lee On Leadership. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1999. Kipling, Rudyard. “When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted,” from the New York Sun, August 28, 1892.