Vol. 85 - No. 3
Mar 2014

WORD FROM THE PASTOR: The Not-So-Magnificent Seven

             A pastor friend of mine called me some years back to tell me about a movie that had left him rattled. “I thought I’d seen it all, movie wise,” he said. “I’ve watched all kinds of horror movies and scary flicks. I thought I was jaded and invulnerable. But this one got under my skin!” The movie he was talking about was Se7en (pronounced “Seven”), with Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. The film is about a serial killer whose murders are designed to illustrate the Seven Deadly Sins. It does indeed feature some of the most horrific sequences ever committed to film (anyone who can watch the “Sloth” scene and not flinch is made of sterner stuff than I). The climax is especially gruelling, as both “Envy” and “Wrath” are encapsulated in a single horrific moment.

             Just a few days ago I happened to catch an episode of Supernatural called “The Magnificent Seven”. This time, it wasn’t a serial killer illustrating the seven deadly sins–it was the Seven Deadlies themselves, personified, in human form, who were wreaking havoc.

             The Seven Deadly Sins are not in the Bible, but they do represent Biblical themes. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Seven Deadlies is that they really aren’t sins–they are the dispositions, the personality flaws, that lead to sin. They’re not sinful actions, but rather tendencies that lead to sinful actions. “Goofing off at work when you’re being paid to be productive” is not one of the Seven Deadlies...but “sloth”, the trait that leads to goofing off at work when you’re being paid to be productive, is. “Fudging on your taxes” isn’t one of the Deadly Sins–but “greed”, which causes us to fudge on our taxes, is.

             In a sense, then, the Seven Deadlies are an application of a theme we had in our Gospel lesson a few weeks ago: that sin originates with attitudes and thoughts, not with actions. The Ten Commandments mostly deal with outward actions, but Jesus urges us to go deeper and see the thoughts in our heart from which those actions stem. Anger is the root of murder; lust is the root of adultery. As Jesus once said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matthew 15:19). This is an incredibly powerful insight that Jesus gives us–before sin takes the form of action, it exists as attitude. The “Seven Deadly Sins” is an application of that insight. Ultimately it is our personality traits, our personality weaknesses, that bring us down.

             The Seven Deadly Sins are Pride, Envy, Sloth, Wrath, Lust, Greed, and Gluttony. The interesting thing about them is that each of them is the twisting of a positive virtue! The Devil is not very creative–what he does is take the good things of God and twist them inside out to come up with evil things. Let’s look at each sin and figure out what positive attribute it corrupts.

             Pride– pride is self-esteem gone wrong. Certainly we can feel good about ourselves as God’s handiwork. “God created me, and He doesn’t make junk”, as a classic poster asserts. Pride, however, is an exaggerated self-esteem that exists apart from God. It’s the kind of self-esteem the Devil offered to Eve: “You will be like God.” (Genesis 3). Pride is when we exalt ourselves above God. In a way, pride is the root from which every other sin stems. We wouldn’t go against almighty God if we didn’t feel that the whole world revolves around us.

             Envy–envy is admiration twisted around into evil. There is nothing wrong with looking upon other people’s lives and appreciating the blessings that God has given them. But it easily slides into resentment. (Some observers contend that “Facebook” especially stokes such resentment). We move from admiring our neighbor’s joy to being angry about it.

             Sloth–a twisting of our need to relax and recharge. We all need some “down time”. Sloth, however, longs for all time to be “down time”. Sloth loves to procrastinate and to waste time!

             Wrath–wrath takes our passion for justice and bends it into something destructive and evil. We long for the victory of the good (as we see it)–wrath happens when that victory is delayed and we become bitter and resentful.

             Lust–Lust is a distortion of both admiration and love. Physical beauty is a reflection of God’s beauty and is worthy of admiration–and love is a reflection of God Himself! But lust takes these two worthy realities, admiration and love, and twists them into self-centered sensual gratification.

             Greed–Greed takes a positive virtue–receiving the gifts God places in our lives with gratitude–and turns it inside out. Instead of being thankful for the good things God gives us, we instead are continually dissatisfied and long for more.

             Gluttony–Food is one of God’s great creations, and it’s good to enjoy and appreciate it. But, as we learn from the story of Adam and Eve, food can also be a source of temptation and destruction. When my sister-in-law gave me a subscription to Gourmet magazine one Christmas, a friend of mine suggested that she should have gotten me Gourmand instead (a gourmet is one who exults in the quality of food–a gourmand one who rejoices in the quantity of food! And by the way, there is no such thing as Gourmand magazine!). Gluttony turns us from gourmets to gourmands–instead of appreciating (in moderation!) the wondrous foods God has placed in our world, we just pile them on!

             The way to combat the seven deadlies is to emphasize the positive virtues each one of them distorts–genuine self-esteem, admiration for others, renewing leisure, a passion for right,

and all the rest. In all this we want to remember that Christ died for us who often are enslaved by the vairous distortions of God’s good gifts. Our sloth, our gluttony, our lust, our rage all put Him up on the cross. Each of the Seven Deadlies is like a hammerstroke that drove the nails into Christ’s hands and feet. So even as we cultivate the positive virtues, we also praise God for the cross that purifies our lives from the disastrous guilt brought by the Not-So-Magnificent Seven.

             Focusing on positive virtues, and looking to the cross for forgiveness and power...sounds like a good way to spend Lent to me!

             God loves you and so do I!