Christian Inactivism

“It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for God gives sleep to God’s beloved.” – Psalm 127:2

In 1937 H. Richard Niebuhr wrote that in a moment of political crisis, there are four kinds of inactivity. First, there is the inactivity of of the pessimist who watches the world go to pieces. Second, there is the inactivity of moral indignation. “This is an angry inactivity like that of a man who is watching a neighborhood fight and is waiting for the police to arrive—for police who never come.” Third, there’s the inactivity of privilege. You don’t join the fray, but you profit from the action. I didn’t march in Charlottesville, but I reap the benefits of white terrorism. 

Finally, there is the inactivity of the radical Christian. Niebuhr says this is an entirely different sort of inactivity. “For the Christian knows that the fact that [men and women] can do nothing constructive is no indication of the fact that nothing constructive is being done.” The Christian knows that God is moving, judging, working. “This is inactivity with a long vision and a steadfast hope. It appears to be highly impracticable because it rests on the well-nigh-obsolete faith that there is a God—a real God.” 

If we stop and do nothing but trust God, we may find ourselves attuned to God’s action. When that happens our own efforts will be easier and more effective. Instead of proud and anxious, our activism can become humble and powerful. But only if we begin by resting in God. Marjorie Thompson says it best. “Your ability to rest is a sign of your faith in God’s ability to take care of things while you close your eyes.” Turn off the news. Put Twitter down. Close your eyes. Then wake up, refreshed and ready. 


“When I lay me down to Sleep,
I recommend my self to God’s care;
when I awake, I give my self up to God’s Direction,
    Amen.”  Joseph Addison, 1711

ddauthormattfitzgerald.jpgAbout the Author
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ in Chicago. He is the host of “Preachers on Preaching,” a weekly podcast sponsored by The Christian Century.