Last year during Lent I led a study on the seven deadly sins. It seemed a good exercise in self-reflection that was fitting for Lent. And then COVID-19 hit in the middle of Lent, and Lent (and life in general) became even harder.
One would expect that a conversation on sin would be too heavy a burden for that season. We were all struggling with uncertainties and anxiety, along with the loss of so many things that brought us pleasure. Surprisingly enough, focusing on sin was deeply encouraging.
Rebecca Konyndyk DeYounges points out that the seven deadly sins(vices) are not so much about doing wrong but about the wrong pursuit of good. As she notes in her book, Glittering Vices, “The vices offer subtle and deceptive imitations of the fullness of the human good, what we often simply call ‘happiness.’” (38). We seek the good that they represent “in the wrong way, at the wrong times, and wrong places, too intensely, or at the expense of other things of greater value.” (39) In terms of specific vices, she describes gluttony as a focus on “one’s own pleasure. Excessive pleasure. Immediate, tangible pleasure.” (140). Like gluttony, lust’s “excessiveness reduces something designed for more than pleasure to mere pleasure and reduces even the fullness of that pleasure to mere self-gratification.” (165)
I hear echoes of Ecclesiastes 2 in DeYoung's words. Ecclesiastes names how pleasure in of itself is not enough to bring happiness. In fact, pleasure can be a distraction from us seeing reality more clearly. Are we, as DeYoung questions, “relying on the pleasure of food to compensate for the lack of rest, relaxation, and joy in an overstressed life” (145)? Or is my preoccupation with my wants and comfort closing my eyes to how my actions are hurting others, or keeping me from seeing and caring about the suffering of others?
I pray that our continued look at the book of Ecclesiastes will help us lament how the good can be distorted and harm others, and may we learn to live more fully into the joy and hope that we have in Christ.