"The Seven Deadly Sins" don’t mean much to most of us. The term might make us think of a creepy Brad Pitt movie from the ’90s, but beyond that, they’re seemingly irrelevant to our faith today. These “Cardinal Sins” are a collection of vices that the Church has decreed to be harmful for the Christian. Their origin is partly biblical (like Paul’s list of sins in Galatians 5:19-21) and partly Greek, linked to the work of a 4th century monk named Evagrius Ponticus. But here’s the list we know today: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony.
These vices were deemed “deadly” because if we give them the opportunity, they can separate us from God and destroy a life of faith. Also, it has been thought that every other transgression stems from this original list. But most of our sins are a combination of these seven, which is why they’re so slippery, so capable of crippling us. For example, a pornography addiction might seem like a direct link to the sin of lust. But it might also find its roots in pride, or even wrath.
While they’re intense and perhaps a bit antiquated, these seven sins might have more relevance than we realize. Sin isn’t always obvious and detestable; sometimes it is seemingly harmless or even "good." We really don’t think most of our vices are horrible, or even sins; they’re just small crutches that help us make it through. These little habits might not ever become “deadly.” But given enough power, our modern vices can be harmful, keeping us from living as God intended.
In our culture, hard work is prized and rest—of any kind—is seen as lazy. As Christians, we need to combat this kind of thinking. Just as God rested on the seventh day of creation, we join Him through Sabbath rest. Sleep is a significant part of this godly action. Naps are a good thing.
But when we sleep to hide from our pain, or when we disengage from our relationships because they’re too much work, we let the vice of sloth worm its way into our hearts and our lives. Rest, as God intended, refreshes us, not just to do more stuff, but to be healthy and whole persons. But here’s the real danger of sloth: It prevents this wholeness through detachment and apathy. We become passive observers of our lives instead of active participants.
It’s important for us to join with God in healthy rest and remain fully present in our lives, awake to our emotions and relationships, even the ones that are hard.
My husband and I don’t own smart phones, and I like it that way. About a year ago, we went to cell phone provider to upgrade our phones. We were quickly greeted by an overzealous salesman who started showing us some of the latest devices. When we told him we were looking for a basic phone for talking and texting, he lamely gestured to the dimly lit back corner of the store before pouncing on the next customer, leaving us to fend for ourselves.
Many of us are inundated with the Internet, whether or not we carry it around with us. It’s not all bad, of course. But even the good aspects of the Internet can lead us to unhealthy patterns. The gift of connection from sites like Facebook and Twitter can lead to comparisons, judgment and self-centeredness. At their worst, these phantoms of true connection makes us more lonely, not less.
Or, if you’re like me, you’re addicted to creative blogs and sites like Pinterest. But even these can lead me to discontent and greed, making me wish I had more stuff or money, or was a better mom, or wife, or cook, or could craft memorable Christmas gifts out of vintage lace tablecloths and tree bark.
The Internet gives us a lot: information, communication, entertainment and creativity. But it also robs us of the precious gift of time and true relationships. Real creativity and inspiration usually find us when we step out of the technological haze and engage with God, creation and those around us.
The word "gluttony" might seem a bit archaic, conjuring up images of a rotund court duke devouring a fat, greasy turkey leg. But the concept is as timely as ever. We eat for a number of reasons: necessity, celebration, fellowship, boredom, pain, loneliness. Of course, the last few reasons on that list are unique to our part of the world. Most of the people around the globe don’t see eating as a vice; they view it as a need and often a luxury.
Many of us, however, eat whenever and whatever we want. And when there is access, there is easily abuse. The abuse of food takes its starkest form in eating disorders, but food is misused in so many small ways—like a “coffee break” that turns into making two large cups and voraciously consuming three stale donuts that someone left in the break room. So often, food seems like a perfect antidote to our stress, our hurts or our long day at that job we hate or the kids who exhaust us.
These “semi-deadly” sins, like eating, sleeping or using the Internet aren’t inherently bad. It’s even OK to really like them. But when we depend on them to fill us, pouring more and more fuel into the insatiable furnace of these little vices, they become harmful to our relationship with God and other people.
Any sin can be deadly when it numbs us and keeps us from receiving love from God and others. Jesus said that this is the work of the thief, who only steals and destroys (John 10:10). Instead, God wants to have abundantly and radically alive, pressing into the pain and the joy, fully present in the life that He gives.