Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was an Italian poet, prose writer, literary theorist, moral philosopher, and political thinker. One of his most famous works regards the seven deadly sins. They include the following: pride, envy, wrath, gluttony, sloth, lust, and greed. What is common among the seven sins is that they rise so naturally and frequently among human beings. They facilitate the commission of the worst human deeds. Most people today would attest to the fact that all these sins are grievous—even those who don’t subscribe to any religious practice. The seven deadly sins lack unambiguous biblical foundation and yet they have merit. Even Galatians 5 refers to these types of sins as “acts of the flesh.”
But God has a different perspective. He gets to the heart of the matter. His perspective addresses how sin began and, highlighting a side of God of which we need a better understanding, how He feels about sin. Since our thoughts are not God’s thoughts (Isa. 55:8), let’s examine God’s description of seven deadly sins as found in Proverbs 6:16-19, followed by brief commentary and further reflections.*
This list looks somewhat different from Dante’s list. It’s a real case of juxtaposition. As already noted in 1 Samuel 16:7, people may look good on the outside, but God looks at the heart and recognizes our true condition.
Taking a closer look, I believe God included this list because He wants us to know that these attitudes and actions hurt Him when He sees humans displaying them. Every time God encounters these sins, He is reminded of how much pain and destruction is caused by Satan—in heaven and on earth.
We all have known people who “take the church hostage,” demanding their way whether by word or by wallet. Here is an example from a church that had some serious challenges with children ministries. Sometimes the junior leader just wouldn’t even show up on Sabbath morning. A plan of action was offered to the board to fix the problem, and it was approved. The head elder was on board, and after a few short weeks the church rejoiced over the highest attendance in the children’s Sabbath School division that anyone could remember. One Sabbath someone got upset about something that appeared to be minuscule, but the leader was willing to discuss the complaint. Instead, the individual contacted the head elder, and, bowing to the pressure that was applied, the elder made his way to the leader’s home. The first thing he asked was if the leader had prayed, because this wouldn’t have happened if there had been sufficient prayer. The children’s ministry in that church came almost to a complete halt. It’s an example of stirring up conflict to the demise of the church and would fit the list of sins described in Proverbs 6:16-19.
The next question is How should we respond to difficult coworkers, church members, and family when they exhibit these traits? How did God deal with Satan? Similar to what He is doing for us, God let Satan prove his point of view for a time. He gave him a choice also, and Satan was quite the influencer. “Its tail swept a third of the starts out of the sky and flung to the earth,” notes Revelation 12:4. Satan was hurled to the earth, with many angels following him (verse 9). The devil has been a big problem for us ever since.
We need to be aware of difficult people’s schemes—not to judge them, but to be astute. We are asked to be long-suffering and patient, and yet we need to pray and ask God to show us when it’s time to let these people go. Yes, let them go!
Why do we address people who are arrogant and overbearing with indifference, as “Oh, that’s just John or Jane”? We should never allow anyone to destroy our churches and God’s people. In another church there was a nice gentleman who was pleasant but had a big problem with sexual harassment. He would talk to women, hug them, touch them inappropriately, and make unsuitable comments, such as “I love all women; they are beautiful to look at.” It made several women, including me, uncomfortable, but when the issue was brought to the church staff, their response was “He is harmless; that’s just John.” No one wanted to rock the boat until a visitor was addressed in this manner and never came back.
While Satan would have us focus on outward behavior and keep us occupied with list making like Dante’s, God focuses on what is most important—the heart of the matter. We are called to model God’s patient love—as demonstrated even in Satan’s case— but there will come a moment we have to let go in order to protect the vulnerable. Above all, we would do well to remember Paul’s counsel to the Galatians: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10).
* All Scripture quotations have been taken from the New International Version.