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The Seven Deadly Sins, Part 4 (of 4)

During the month of October, RTB editor Sandra Dimas and I have discussed the seven deadly sins and their virtuous opposites. This week we conclude the series with pride and envy. In case you missed the previous articles, you can click on the following links to read part 1 (sloth), part 2 (greed and gluttony), and part 3 (anger and lust).


Let’s start with envy. How would you define this sin?

Envy is when I can’t be happy about something good happening to you because I’m so needy that I want everything to be given to me. It’s such a self-centered lack of generosity.

What about the virtue that contrasts envy?

In contrast to envy is charity or being grateful. I can be grateful that something good happened to you because I love and care for you. Thus I extend charity or gratefulness to you and to others.

Can I ask which of these deadly sins you struggle with the most?

For me, I’d have to say envy. When I was playing baseball as a young man, I envied friends who signed professional baseball contracts. Now I envy my apologist friends whose books sell better than mine do. There was a particular book I didn’t think was half as good as mine, yet it sold like hotcakes! Everyone was just falling over themselves trying to get this book. (laughs) So, I’m aware of envy, but I think it also probably depends on the season of my life, which sin I’m most susceptible to.

Now let’s talk about the big sin of pride.

C. S. Lewis said there were two kinds of pride. The first is a humble pride where you have a low self-image. The second, which according to Lewis is a much worse form of pride, is the diabolical pride, where you don’t care what anybody thinks and you don’t value the opinion of anybody—not even God. Lewis also said pride is the anti-god state of mind.

Is this “anti-god state of mind” why some would consider pride the worst of these seven deadly sins?

Pride is this antispiritual state of mind where it’s difficult to be generous and loving because you have contempt for everybody but yourself. Is it the worst of sins? Lewis thought so, and a lot of people would agree. Saint Augustine said the sin of Lucifer was that he exalted a good thing (himself) above the greatest thing (God). If pride is what made Lucifer the devil, it’s a pretty serious state of mind because it puts you at odds with others and with God.

What is the contrasting virtue to pride?

Contrasting pride is humility, which means you stop comparing yourself to others. Instead you recognize that whatever God does in other people’s lives doesn’t mean that you’re the odd man out. It just means that God’s grace flows over into all kinds of people’s lives.

Earlier you mentioned a “humble pride.” How would you compare “humble pride” with true humility?

Pride is the ultimate competitive state and always at odds with everybody else. Humility is accepting acknowledgment with gratitude. Christians sometimes get this false sense that humility means we deflect compliments. But being made in the image of God means God has put His fingerprint upon us. We have inherent dignity and moral worth.

Can you give an example of when you’ve experienced true humility?

A young man once shared with me that something I had written brought him out of a state of depression that could’ve led to suicide. I felt immediately humbled. I thought, how would I ever know that God could use something I had written to powerfully impact somebody’s life? What a wonderful thing that God would use a difficult writer like me for His glory.

You mentioned previously that medieval theologians formed the list of seven deadly sins. It seems that behaviors once considered vices are applauded today. Greed might be considered good because it’s good to be successful. Pride is considered good because too many people have low self-esteem. Sloth is good because you deserve to binge on Netflix. For that matter, gluttony is good because you deserve to binge on cupcakes.

I like your cupcakes, by the way.

Oh, thanks. (laughs) But do you think today’s Christians can look at these “deadly” sins as true vices rather than things we should strive for?

It’s helpful to realize that much of our sins are not directly doing the wrong thing but taking good things and misusing them. Instead of recognizing that food, money, sexuality, and so forth, are gifts, we misuse them. Sometimes we demand more than these things can give us. We’re asking finite things to meet a need that only the infinite God can fulfill. In Confessions, Augustine writes that “you’ve made us for yourself and our hearts find no rest until they rest in thee.” We were made for God.

How do these sins affect how we engage God? It seems they strip away our trust in God.

I think that’s a great point. Jesus called Yahweh Abba, which is an Aramaic term of endearment. Some scholars would say it is equivalent to “daddy.” When we lose control of ourselves, we’re not trusting in God’s fatherly care for us, His sovereignty.

Any final thoughts on this topic?

We’ve discussed the deadly sins and cardinal virtues, but there are also the theological virtues. Those are faith, hope, and love. I think the seven deadly sins show a lack of affirming faith, hope, and love. That may be the heart of it: we’ve lost our faith, hope, and love. Thus we’re scrambling to hold onto every thing we can get our hands on.


For more on the seven deadly sins, see Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness by David K. Naugle.