Last week I was checking citations for my book about the healing power of confession, and it gave me an occasion to revisit some of the essays in Mere Christianity. It is a collection of radio addresses given by atheist-turned-Christian C.S. Lewis about the lowest common denominator of what it means to be Christian. He begins the series with commentary on the human tendency to want to hold others to a standard of fair play. Lewis calls this standard of fair play the Law of Human Nature, but it could also be called a moral compass or a chart that helps us navigate rights and wrongs. Lewis takes pains to distinguish this Law of Human Nature from human instinct. All our human instincts are good in the right context and bad in the wrong context, he asserts, so the Law is the set of rules defining what makes them right or wrong.
The so-called seven deadly sins are normal human inclinations, instincts or even gifts taken to excess, distorted or neglected.
- Lust distorts bodily expressions of the gift of love.
- Gluttony is our bodily need for sustenance taken to excess.
- Greed exaggerates material needs often to the point of hostility towards others.
- Envy excludes others from our desire for goodness to the point of sorrow for another’s good.
- Sloth is our need for rest taken to excess and reflects indifference to our gifts.
- Wrath perverts our sense of justice into revenge and spite. It also includes excessive anger directed inward towards self.
- Pride, considered the most grave of the bunch, is placing one’s own will above all else and can corrupt love of self into contempt for others.
We can find sinfulness in our thoughts and actions when we allow any of our natural inclinations to overwhelm or to distract us. To feed any obsession is to overlook the abundance of other gifts God put before us. Failing to recognize, and failing to respond to, the abundance and grace in our lives is another, more subtle, way we veer off course into sin.
Those of us among the 5% of Earth’s population who reside in North America, who consume 25% of Earth’s energy and who eat enough extra calories every day to feed an additional 80 million people, can’t escape confronting our abundance. While 925 million people in the world do not have enough to eat, making hunger and malnutrition the number one risk to health worldwide, the leading health risk to the poor in the United States is obesity. Indeed, it is a land of abundance.
How we respond internally to the abundance around us informs what we do externally with our resources. Both matter. “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” (Luke 12:48)
Join the conversation. Are you humbled by the abundance of opportunity and comfort surrounding you, wondering what on earth could be expected of you that would in any way measure to the abundance you enjoy? Or have you grown so accustomed to worldly things that you feel entitled to them and, in fact, want more?
Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.