Sin is real. We may be uncomfortable talking about it, but sin is a hard truth. It’s as much of our lives as the air we breathe. We may try to ignore sin and pretend it’s not there. We may even try to convince ourselves that the evil in the world is caused by sick people who aren’t anything like us. But the truth remains. Sin is real and it’s a part of each of us.
Throughout history, at the foundation of all the discussions of the seven deadly sins is the recognition that these sins are deeply rooted in our nature. Social scientists have grappled with this concept for ages. Admitting that the grievous ills of our society are us, we’re reaping the harvest of failing to recognize the fact of sin.
The early church leaders also knew that these sins do not stand alone. They are entwined together and are not limited to individuals. They knew it was impossible to be guilty of one sin and innocent of another. They also knew that the private sins of individuals spiraled out into the community. These sins operate at the social level and permeate politics, business, entertainment, and yes, the church. They are reflected in and shape social attitudes, values, and institutions.
Pride, greed, and anger certainly profoundly influence domestic and foreign policy. Pornography is an outgrowth of lust. Substance abuse an outgrowth of gluttony. Terrorism an outgrowth of envy. Violence an outgrowth of anger. Indifference to the pain and suffering of others is the outgrowth of sloth. Abuse of power and distorting influence and truth are outgrowths of greed. All sorts of things, including one of the most pervasive and debilitating social ills of our day, discrimination, are the outgrowth of pride.
So the seven deadly sins, while personal, certainly aren’t private and have ramifications throughout society. All we have to do is think of Al Queda, the recent political sexual scandals, and the subprime lending debacle to know this is true.
In Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis called pride the spiritual cancer which eats up all possibility of love or contentment or common sense. The Latin word for pride is superbia where we get our word for superb. It is the inordinate desire to be like God. In Genesis the serpent says the magic words, “You will be like God.” I hate picking on Eve because she gets blamed for more than her fair share, but she gets hooked. (She had already twisted God’s words, but you can read that on your own).
The sin of pride we’re talking about is not to be confused with legitimate self-love that recognizes its rightful place in relation to others and God. Nor is it to be confused with the rightful expressions of assertiveness, initiative, self-confidence, and self-esteem that are components for each of us to be whole and healthy as God created us to be.
There is no room for worm theology. A child of God is not a worm. If God wanted you to be a worm, God could have easily made you one! God’s very good at worms. There are an infinite variety of wiggly creatures!
Worm theology creates many problems. It also wears many faces, all sad. It crawls out from between the mattress and springs into the morning telling itself, “I’m nothing. I’m a worm. Woe, woe. I can’t do anything and even if I appear to be doing something, it’s not really me. Woe! I must annihilate self-respect, crucify all motivation and ambition. If any good accidentally leaks out, I must quickly or categorically deny I had anything to do with it. How could I accomplish anything of value? I mean, who am I? I’m a worm. Good for nothing except crawling very slowly, drowning in mud puddles, or getting stepped on. Woe, woe, woe.
There’s one problem with this sort of thinking. Its phony. No matter how diligently we labor to appear genuinely humble, it amounts to nothing more than trying to look good in another way. Self-made worms carry around little signs you have to squint at to read: I bet I’m twice as humble as you are. And therein lie the ugly sin: pride.
Heretical as it may sound; no one who actually hates themselves can adequately share the love of Christ. Jesus taught that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Think that over. If we don’t properly love ourselves, where does that leave our neighbor?!?
If faith is the absolute trust in God as our source of all goodness and fulfillment, then pride is the antithesis of faith. Pride is the stubborn refusal to let God be God with all the corresponding ambition for us to take God’s place. It is the attempt to dethrone God and enthrone ourselves.
Pride is that obstacle to salvation that requires our need for grace. Receiving God’s grace alone is unpopular because it is grievously wounding to our pride. We want to think our own way to God by ourselves and gain credit for discovering God by our own effort!
Pride is a swelling of the heart. When the heart swells, filled with its own self-preoccupation and self-pleasure, there is no room for others in it. Having no room for others increases our solitude and we become more and more alone. Convinced of our own abilities and self-sufficiency, we deny our need for community. And even more tragically for others, we refuse to meet the obligations of being in community.
The destructiveness of pride in relationships is expressed in all sorts of ways. One, it makes us impatient with the faults and failures of others. If we see only the good and perfect in ourselves, which is what pride does, the faults and failures of others are magnified and our impatience prevents understanding and leads to strife in relationships.
As pride makes us see only the good and perfect in ourselves, it also makes us see only the good and perfect in others like us. The result is unhealthy national or ethnic or gender pride, for example. The attributes and characteristics of our own group become so magnified, so out of proportion that people who are different from us appear in our eyes to be grossly inadequate. Their faults and failures become monumental. Racial strife, cultural issues, discrimination, to give just a few examples, vividly illustrate the destructive nature of pride. It begins with individuals and continues its destruction throughout society.
Pride leads to all sorts of presumption. Because we think far more hugely of ourselves, we presume on all of our relationships. We expect others to cater to our desires. We are unable to see how our own selfishness is robbing from another. We are so intent on our own happiness and so centered on getting what we want that we think others should act as we wish. We relate to others and engage in conversation from a superior stance. Our prideful presumption erects immediate barriers between us and with those with whom we are in relationship.
Pride prevents our giving attention to others. When I am focused on myself and my own needs being met, it is impossible to give any sustained attention to someone else. Unchecked pride becomes so preoccupied with self that it can neither affirm another nor receive affirmation. The pride-filled person cannot be vulnerable enough to share pain and failure that would elicit the support and affirmation they also need.
Getting pride and humility in balance is essential for people who struggle with addiction. There is a connection between unchecked pride and addiction. When persons are lost in their addictive behaviors, they are driven by self-interest. Neither pride-filled nor addictive persons see outside themselves well enough to ask for help. And so they continue to be trapped in their egos, needing desperately the affirmation they can neither receive nor give.
Pride is destructive in our relationships with others and God because it won’t allow us to confess and repent. Pride prevents us from seeing our faults and failures. Yet, when reality breaks through, we are still so controlled by pride that we find it almost impossible to say, “I’m sorry.” There is no ongoing relationship with God and with others apart from the healing dynamic of confession and repentance.
The children worked long and hard on their own little cardboard shack. It was to be a special spot, a clubhouse, where they could meet in solemn assembly or just laugh, play games, and fool around. As they thought long and hard about their rules, they came up with three rather perceptive ones:
- Nobody act big.
- Nobody act small.
- Everybody act medium.
Not bad theology.