Virtues are Bygone and Vices Have Triumphed

by Max Andrews

In light of recent circumstances I thought it all too prudent to re-post a previous post on the seven deadly sins. These sins originated by spiritual vice and a lack of spiritual virtue. Personally, I see too many people, even in the church…, who hold to vice over virtue and don’t seek truth for truth’s sake. Truth for truth’s sake is God’s sake. All truth is God’s truth. Too many people are content with injustice and dishonesty.

As for me, where there is truth, there I will be. Should you find me absent you’ll find me repenting my way back to truth. Should I stand alone against the myriads in the battlefield… if I know truth is on my side I would stand my ground for the sake of virtue, truth, justice, and that which is right.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–No more–and by a sleep to say we end. The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep–

(I wonder how many people will know the reference above without looking it up and know what this person is actually talking about…)

Most of us are quite familiar with the seven deadly sins: Pride, Greed, Wrath, Luxury/Lust, Gluttony, Envy, and Sloth. However, these are much more profound then they seem to be at face value and they go much, much deeper, penetrating the depths of our soul to bring about a conviction and guidance needed during some of the darkest times of our lives. This brings us to John of the Cross…

John of the Cross (1542-1591) was committed to Catholic reform and was imprisoned, or put in confinement, by those who opposed the reform. During this time he wrote his most famous work, The Dark Night of the Soul. The concept of the dark night is key to one’s spiritual journey. It’s not when one is experiencing joy and light but rather sorrow and darkness.

When enduring through the dark night there is a loss of pleasure.  After you first become a Christian, God cares for and comforts the infant soul.  You will pray with urgency and perseverance and engage in all kinds of spiritual activity. What’s important to know is that this whole gauntlet is an act of God.  God will bid you to grow deeper and remove precious consolation from the soul in order to teach it virtue rather than developing vice.

The following is a list of [seven] sins that makes clear the soul has begun to misuse its spiritual consolation and why God must take it away in order to purify the soul from imperfections.

1) Secret Pride

Sometimes some people are just too spiritual. You speak of spiritual things all the time. You are content with growth. You condemn others for not being as spiritual as you are. These are the people who “Jesus juke” all the time and they really mean it when they say it. You’re the kind of person who gets frustrated with others who don’t read the Bible enough or pray enough. You’re the person that would rather teach than be taught! You’re the type of person who does their devotions when and where people can see you. You pray openly or obviously like the pious Jews who prayed aloud on street corners to be seen.

You’re looking for attention and it becomes a vice. You do what you do to be esteemed by others. You fear confession. You don’t want others to know something that can ruin your image. Even so, when you actually do get around to confessing your sins you soften your sins to make them appear less imperfect.

All of a sudden you find yourself begging God. You ask God to take away these imperfections of an inner peace and not for God. You don’t realize that if God took them away you would probably become more prideful.

For the person who is in this transition, God urges them to keep their treasures secretly within themselves–it’s a fight countered with humility.

2) Spiritual Greed–Attached to the Feelings

This person becomes discontent with what God gives them because they do not experience the consolation they think they deserve. They begin reading many books and performing many acts of piety (leaving books open for people to see, leaving Bible notes out on purpose, etc.). They begin to value visible things too highly. There’s no substance. You flow on feelings from devotional life and you focus on the effect and not the substance of the devotion.

3) Spiritual Luxury

This is, perhaps, the most important and has three causes. A soul deep in prayer may experience profound temptations and find itself powerless to prevent them.

The first cause: Sometimes the flesh is stirred up during times of devotions.

The second cause: Our sinful nature stirs up impurity in the soul and we begin to fear temptations and become lax in prayer and give up on prayer altogether.

The third cause: Frail souls that cannot stand such thoughts and, in turn, fear them. The fear in itself can cause downfall and become agitated at the least disturbance and easily distracted.

The flesh must be quieted. God will take away all of the sensory pleasure during the dark night and the soul is purified in the absence of it.

4) Saints in a Day

When the soul beings to enjoy the benefits of the spiritual life and then has them taken away we see ourselves producing a spiritual wrath. The soul becomes angry and embittered. Just as a nursing baby is pulled away from the mother, the baby becomes frustrated and anxious. There is nothing wrong with natural disappointment but when left to itself it becomes a vice.

Things become self-inflicted. You get angry with yourself thinking the loss of your having neglected to do something. You strive to become a more holy person. You make resolutions to be more spiritual. Usually, the greater the resolution, the greater the fall.

Patience. We must learn spiritual meekness coming out of the dark night.

5) Beyond Moderation

During this time we will experience a spiritual gluttony. You kill yourself in spiritual exercises because you’re addicted to it. Lengthy fasts and painful penances. This is one-sided. It’s not from God and thus grow in vice and not virtue. You start making deals with God as if he were a landlord or someone to be bartered with. You will grow weary and you do spiritual things for yourself and not for God.

The problem is this: when you receive no pleasure from your devotion you think you have not accomplished anything. It’s great error and it judges God unfairly. The truth is that the feelings we receive from our devotional life are the least of the benefits. The invisible and unfelt grace of God is much greater and is beyond our comprehension.

We strive to make effort to obtain consolation, which actually lose spirituality. You make yourself callous, you do things on your own without God. Looking back at “Saints in a Day,” this is something you are trying to do.

6) Spiritual Envy

You’re jealous over others’ spiritual growth, wishing the attention was on you. You want to be praised. This is contrary to love–rejoice in goodness. Our goal is not to compete with each other in teaching the Word of God or learning the Word of God–it is to build one another up. Stop comparing your spiritual disciplines and virtues with others. Stop complaining about sermons and lessons that you don’t agree with. Don’t set there and take everything in either. Be critical but don’t condemn. You can still learn something from it.

When I taught small group lessons on a weekly basis during my undergrad and graduate years I became so discouraged when I hear how everyone was always debating my lessons right afterwards. I wish the biggest impact was the Spirit’s work he just did and not some controversial theological position that has little effect on the main point.

7) Growing Weary with Spiritual Exercises–Sloth

Souls become weary of spiritual exercises and because they do not yet consolation, they are abandoned altogether. We have a loss of interest in God and more infatuated with the self. These souls are too weak to bear the crosses that are given to us to help us grow–crosses we face in the dark night of the soul

_____

God works passively. God sees our imprecations and urges us to grow up. God takes way vices and gives us virtues and his love is the reason for the dark night. Alas, we now know the origin of the popularly known “seven deadly sins” with their counterpart virtues.

  1. Pride : Humility
  2. Greed : Simplicity
  3. Wrath : Contentment
  4. Luxury : Peace
  5. Gluttony : Moderation
  6. Envy : Joy
  7. Sloth : Strength

No soul will ever grow deep in the spiritual life unless God works passively in that soul by the means of the dark night.

As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for you, O God.

My soul thirst for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God?

My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me. For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, with the voice of joy and thanksgiving , a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise him for the help of his presence.

O my God, my should is in despair within me; therefore I remember you from the land of the Jordan and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep at the sound of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have rolled over me.

The Lord with command his lovingkindness in the daytime; and his song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life.

I will say to God my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of my enemy?”

As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God”

Why are you in despair, O my soul? and why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise him, the help of my countenance and my God.

Psalm 42

Remember, mirrors see what you cannot


2 Comments to “Virtues are Bygone and Vices Have Triumphed”

  1. Great post as always, Max! I remember the first few years after following Christ I slipped into #1 often – no question. Thanks for posting these!

    P.S. Shakespeare. Hamlet. “To be or not to be; that is the question.” When I’m done with grad school I’m going to be an English teacher, so it’s required that I have this memorized. Also it’s my favorite of Shakespeare’s.

  2. This is how God makes a man integrated, whole, delivering him in part at least, from the mire and muck of vanity, hypocrisy and hence irrelevance.

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