A reader wisely pointed out that I have never really talked about where the seven deadly sins come from, and I greatly appreciate his observation because it’s an important point. The seven deadly sins are not listed by Jesus or Paul, or grouped together anywhere in the Bible in a systematic way. It was the early church fathers who came up with the list, although there is ample biblical support for each one. And it is not meant to be a complete list of sins in general, but a list of sins that are pervasive and deaden our relationship with God Almighty. Of course, no sin is deadly in the eternal sense–thanks to the birth we celebrate tomorrow.
But pride is the very worst of the seven. C.S. Lewis called it “the spiritual cancer,” and it was pride that caused the fall in the first place. Adam and Eve ate the apple because they wanted to be like God. They acted in self-centeredness, they itched for recognition, and even though God told them not to eat the fruit, in that moment, they believed they knew better. And why was the Tower of Babel built? Do you remember? So that the people could make a name for themselves. Pride.
Sin often has its own punishment; think of the personal destruction that gluttony and lust wreak in a person’s life. But pride is the one sin that God vows to address himself. James tells us that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6). St. John Cassian wrote about this saying that the evil of pride is so great that God himself is its adversary. How wretched a thought to have God as an adversary! Yet even in the most noble of efforts pride creeps in. We may aim to serve the needs of others, but we often retain the itch for recognition. I itch like crazy.
Denial of sin is also a paramount issue that stems from pride. We are tremendously creative beings when it comes to rationalizing why we are not responsible for our own actions, or why in this particular case, what we are doing is not actually wrong. It is pride that fuels this fire of denial. Pride causes one to chafe under the rule and sovereignty of God (William Backus), and this attitude of the heart burns its gruesome branding into everything we do.
Pride is ugly and pervasive. So what’s the cure? What is the spiritual calamine that tames the itch for recognition, that thwarts the self-satisfaction, self-seeking, drive for status, authority and control? Humility is the obvious cure, but how do we obtain it?
Jesus tells us that “whoever humbles himself like [a] child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:4 (NIV). But what does this look like practically? A child is open to learning–they know they don’t have all the answers. A child is trusting and unpretentious. They have no authority and they know they are not in control. Not that a child is free of pride (at least I know mine aren’t), but certainly we can agree that children are generally more humble and more trusting.
Perhaps the best thing to do is meditate on all of the passages in the Bible that address pride and humility. When we become convinced that God hates pride, and cracking your Bible open will convince you of it, then we will take more seriously our efforts to root it out. We can pray about it and meditate on the humbling reality that no matter how sinful we are, God sent his Son to die for us. You may be so prideful that you don’t even think you need a Savior – but you know what, even that doesn’t matter. God still sent his beloved Son to die for YOU.
Merry Christmas and please check back tomorrow for a special Christmas blog.