Deadly Doing

This will be coming out in Kernersville News‘ “Words to Live By” column on Thursday I think. I do have a bee in my bonnet.

According to a study done by Kansas State geographers, the Southeast is hot bed of sin. Thomas Vought presented the results of a study in which the Seven Deadly Sins: Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Envy, Wrath, and Pride were quantified by data ranging from art purchases to the distribution of fast food restaurants to the number of violent crimes per capita committed in every county in the United States. The info graphics are illuminating, and the Southeast comes out looking particularly wicked. Apparently, we’re susceptible to lust, wrath, envy, and pride.

The problem is not with the graphic nor the conclusions they draw. It does no good to defend one’s rightness record–it’s a hopeless cause. On the other hand, it’s a little shocking to see violent crime, robberies, murders, and S.T.D.’s so concentrated in what many call the Bible belt, and I gather that news is a not a little delicious for those who despise the Bible Belt. The data is troubling, and we must address the problems exposed therein. However, what the graphic reveals is not the only problem.

The study done by Kansas State has a significant and terminal flaw. It doesn’t take sin nearly serious enough. They employ the Seven Deadly Sins as the categories of sin about which to collect data, but their definition reflects a lack of understanding about what they are and how they serve as categories. Though there is a lot more to be said, the Seven Deadly Sins were considered to be the root of sins. Cruelty is a sin, but there are myriad reasons why one might be cruel: angry vindictiveness (wrath), jealous wanting (envy), or even careless loving (sloth). Theologians throughout history recognized that unless you address the root cause of sin, your attempts to repent of sins will be shallow and ultimately fruitless.

The Seven Deadly Sins are ultimately not about behaviors but about affections. Each of the Seven reflects a way in which love has been corrupted. If you remember your Bible rightly, the entire law is summed up in the two greatest commandments: to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. Lust, greed, gluttony, sloth, envy, wrath, and pride flow from a heart of disproportionate, disordered affections. Lust is an excessive love of persons, greed is an excessive love of our own welfare, gluttony is an excessive love of pleasure, sloth is the failure to love rightly and in the degree one ought. Envy, wrath, and pride turn the desires of those things we want: well-being, justice, and significance against our neighbor by depriving them of the same. And so the person gives themselves over to wrath when, after a perceived injustice, they lash out unjustly in vengeful spite against their neighbor.

In Kansas State’s study, I was saddened to read that they defined sloth as expenditures on art, entertainment, recreation over and against employment. Never mind that it does not take into account the fact that many are out of work involuntarily, Sloth does not pit recreation against employment let alone patronage of the arts. In fact recreation and the enjoyment of beauty may be the best thing for our work because it can lead one to worship which is what sloth is really about. Sloth is the failure to love God with all one has and is and the failure to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. Granted, it can be slothful to give one’s self over to the constant drone of amusing diversion, but it is just as slothful to despair–as if God had not given us ample reason through Jesus Christ to hope and believe and love. A refusal to enter into the joy of what God offers us through the gospel, is just plain lazy. And that, is what this study reflects: a lazy consideration of both the glory of what God has done through Jesus Christ and the utter necessity that he do it for us and even in spite of us.

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