No Rest for the Wicked?

I’ve always thought that one of the more interesting scriptures is the verse in Isaiah that states,

Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink; that continue until night, till wine inflame them!

After all, the somewhat humorous way to read this is:

If you’re going to be an alcoholic, sleep in.

Similar themes come up elsewhere in the scriptures (I can’t locate it at the moment, but there’s a similar verse in Proverbs as I recall). It strikes me that we can praise drive and motivation too much. Our rhetoric about not quitting obscures the fact that drive and motivation can be very destructive if they are used for evil.

Consider, for example, that Hitler was a hard worker. He rose from obscure beginnings to become a major political figure. He wrote while in prison; he rallied and organized his followers; he showed a lot of drive and determination, and he nearly exterminated Europe’s Jews.

Wouldn’t it have been better for everyone involved if Hitler had been a quitter? If he had been a procrastinator? (“I’d like to exterminate the Jews, but it can wait till tomorrow”).

Determination and motivation are not unalloyed goods; they merely serve to magnify the good or evil of the ends to which they are applied.

So if you’re planning on being evil, remember to sleep in.

7 comments for “No Rest for the Wicked?

  1. Reminds me of Nibley’s Zeal Without Knowledge, in which (paraphrasing) we think it is better to get up at 6 a.m. to write a bad book than at 9 a.m. to write a good one.

  2. Kaimi: Cute, but I don’t entirely agree.

    Your discussion assumes that we judge the worth of a particular quality in purely in terms of the effects that quality has in the world. As it happens, I agree with you that effects are tremendously important and cannot be ignored. On the other hand, I think it is a mistake to assume that they are end-all-and-be-all for judging various qualities.

    What your discussion ignores is the concept of virtue. The idea is that there are certain qualities that are desirable and praise worthy not because of the effects that they have on the world external to us, but because of the way that they shape our souls. Hence, it may be that there was some virtue in Hitler’s diligence, that in some sense his soul was the better for it. Now no one would possibly claim that this justified his actions. Furthermore, the evil that he inflicted on the world no doubt had huge and countervailing influence on his soul, so I suspect that anyway you slice the pie, Hitler ends up as a moral loser. (Boy, am I out on a limb here or what?!) Still, I DON’T think that even Adolf counts as a poster boy for the proposition that diligence or hard work are morally neutral and can only be judged according to their effects.

  3. I’m joining Nate on his limb. I hope it doesn’t crack. A bad man (let’s not say Hitler, please. The man taints any conversation) with a few good qualities like determination or zeal or whatnot is a worse man to the outside world and a better man inside than otherwise. (Though in truth we must consider that Satan may not have challenged his zeal or determination very much, seeing them as useful to his satanic purposes, so I one is not sure how deep these good qualities run.) The worse effects on the outside world are the things that God will tidy up at the end of the world. In a sense, they don’t matter. God cares about the inner man.

    The bad man is a worse man because he adds zeal to his pride and his bloodlust and his powerhunger, but maybe he’s a worse man because he adds pride and bloodlust and powerhunger to his zeal. Only the most blessed among us can cast our lot in with the devils, but God commands us to try and number among the blessed in any case.

    That said, I have no objections to Kaimi’s original post. He works in a big law firm, runs his church, does the website, Yowsers! He’s got zeal downpat and is to be commended for downplaying his virtue. By the same light it’s fitting that I play up zeal as a virtue . . .

  4. Kaimi: Perhaps this fits in with your point? 1. What about the synergistic effect of zeal on the righteous? If testimony & faith are like energy that isn’t consumed upon use (numerous GC talks), then…perhaps zeal is self-sustaining?

    2. And what of the possibly repentant acceleration effect of zeal on the wicked…who as they speed towards denying the _Son_ in their sins…they may hit _the rock_ bottom and be sling-shot round the _son_ via the atonment and sped towards repentance/righteousness? or…hit & deny the _son_ and cause flame/radiance spots that inflict pain & suffering upon others?

  5. It may be the case that perseverance and zeal is typically harder to learn than more prosaic thinsg liking being nice to people. Thus it was easier to course-correct the zealaous Saul on the road to Damascus than to raise up an equivalent righteous person with his energy and perseverance.

    This would, of course, not be true in all cases.

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