Since it emerged in the Middle Ages, the list of the Seven Deadly Sins has always started with “Pride.” While it may be an overstatement to say that pride is the root of the other sins, in the words of a pastor friend, “it could hardly be denied that pride makes the other six deadly sins deadlier.”
The writer of Proverbs would likely agree. These verses from chapter 16 have been quoted through the centuries for their practical wisdom. I can still hear my grandma’s conflated form of verse 18 in her King James Bible, warning that “Pride goeth before a fall!” In my boyhood, this was interpreted to mean, “Watch out! Sooner or later, an overly inflated ego will trip you up, and you’re liable to land flat on your face.”
I can certainly attest to the truth that a haughty spirit can lead to humbling, even humiliating, life lessons. However, I think this text offers more than a pithy moralism. The sobering witness of Scripture is that pride is sin. In its varied manifestations, pride is sin against God and God’s creation, and sin against others and ourselves. Furthermore, it is sin with destructive consequences for us individually and for our communities and world.
As we will see in other biblical texts this week, the “better” alternative is humility. This is not a uniquely Judeo-Christian idea or virtue. But for Christians, humility is given its distinctiveness and meaning by the spirit of Jesus. And in today’s American culture, Christ-infused humility is profoundly countercultural. To choose to be of a lowly spirit, to choose to live like Jesus, is to identify with the poor, the marginalized, and the powerless.
In what ways have you seen and experienced the destructive power of pride in your life, in your faith community, and in society?
God, the source of truth and wisdom, help me see, acknowledge, and confess the damage that pride has done in my life and in my world. Give me the courage to choose the “lowly” spirit rooted in the spirit of Jesus. Amen.