It’s Lent, and for centuries the Church has challenged her sons and daughters to examine their hearts in this season by meditating upon the Seven Deadly Sins. Pride, envy, anger, lust, greed, gluttony, and sloth are called the “Deadly” Sins because they are the chiefs, the parents from which all other sins spring.
But chief of the chiefs is pride. St. Augustine believed that pride was of the very essence of sin. As C.S. Lewis said, “[Pride] is the complete anti-God state of mind. It is “The Great Sin” that leads to all other sins, because pride is the exaltation of Self above all authority, even God’s authority.
Pride is cosmic arrogance. It shows its ugly head in our unreasonable sense of self-importance, in our belief that our way is always the right way, in our search for self-glorification, in our conceit in our own abilities, and in our contempt for the abilities of others. Pride is revealed in our boastfulness, hypocrisy and arrogance, in our impatience with and disdain for others, in our insatiable desire for recognition, our discontent when it is given, and our rage when it is withheld.
The Scriptures say that pride deceives the heart, hardens the mind, brings contention, compasses about like a chain, brings men to destruction, stirs up strife, causes one to stumble and fall. And for these and many other reasons the Scripture says that pride is an abomination to the Lord. God resists the proud, and hates the proud look.
There is a “proud look,” isn’t there? The raised eyebrow, the chin jutting out, the down-turned, tightly drawn lips, and the long nose over which the eyes look down at you. We say a person who is prideful looks down his nose at you. That’s what pride is. It’s looking down at others from a position of supposed superiority.
On this point C.S. Lewis makes a great observation. He says that as long as you are looking down at others, you cannot know God. Because “as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”
So what is the remedy for our pride? It’s very easy to say that we should seek to be humble, but even humility is something we can become proud of. Martin Luther says that, while still a monk, he was constantly striving to be humble. He wore hair shirts, and fasted, and slept on the cold stone floor. And he said “I finally achieved humility, and I was proud of it!” Even the pursuit of humility can become a vain pursuit.
We must recognize that true humility is not merely the absence of pride; it is the presence of love. Love is the remedy for pride because love never looks down; love only ever looks up. “Love,” says St. Paul, “does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own” (1 Cor. 13:4, 5).
Jesus’ greatest act of love was to die for us on the cross, and He commands us to love one another as He has loved us. To love means to die to self. And we die by allowing the word of God, and even the people of God, to cut us, and to lay us open, and to reveal to us the corruption our souls, that we might know that there is nothing in us worthy of our boasting. And then, having been brought so low, we look up and see that God still loves us for Jesus’ sake. It’s then, and only then, that we’re able to look up to each other and to love each other as Jesus loved us.
Fr. Jerry D. Kistler is dean of the Deanery of the West and rector of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church. ‘Pastor’s Perspective’ is a weekly column that rotates among numerous local pastors in the community.