Antidotes for the Seven Deadly Sins

The philosopher Martin Buber distinguishes between two different ways of relating to creation—you may have heard of these. The first is the relationship he calls I/It, in which we objectify whatever we are relating to—even our own body. We turn it into something we either use or experience superficially, but we are separate from it. How can I use it? How can I use you?

The second kind of relationship is what Martin Buber calls the I/Thou relationship, where the entirety of my self relates to the entirety of your self. I experience you as a whole person, a fellow member of the beloved community of all creation. This relationship does not allow for exploitation or cruelty. In an I/Thou relationship, we understand that we are completely connected. What benefits you truly benefits me; what hurts you, truly hurts me. You are a whole, living, feeling entity, a part of God’s seamless creation, and so am I.

The ideal community is an I/Thou relationship, not only with each other, but with the world beyond its doors, and with God. The I/It relationship, on the other hand, is both the cause and the effect of sin.

I’ll say that word again. SIN. We don’t use that word very much in the United Church of Christ. We prefer to call it error or mistake. But the concept of sin is pervasive in the Bible. And Christian tradition offers us a short catalog of the worst sins, the source of all the others. These are called the Cardinal Sins, or the Deadly Sins:, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, and Wrath. Each of these deadly sins is a form of separation, a face of the I/It relationship.

Greed and Gluttony separate us from our own real needs. They separate us from the beauty and wholeness of what we consume, and from our brothers and sisters who don’t have enough for their own needs. Sloth is moral laziness: apathy, care-less-ness—separation by passive withdrawal. Pride is the exaltation of ourselves at the expense of others; in pride, we lose sight of the wholeness of other beings, and separate ourselves from them, as superior to them. Lust commodifies our own bodies and those of others, turning us all into toys for the gratification of our desire. You’ll recognize Envy in the concept of Schadenfreude, a German word that means taking joy in the pain of others. In Envy, I see in you only what I want, and what I want you not to have. James’s letter specifically mentions Envy as the root of “disorder and wickedness of every kind.” And finally, there’s Wrath—the desire to get even for something you did to me, often including violence. Wrath separates me from you by turning you into the object of my revenge.

The world is full of these cracks in the community of creation. Turn on your TV, go to the Internet, drive down the street, and you can check all of them off your life list in about 10 minutes. They drive our national politics and endanger us and our neighbors. We are surrounded by enticements to indulge in the illusion of separation. But they are spiritual poisons that numb and destroy our sense of community, and they’re being force-fed to us all day long.

But here is where the beloved community comes to the rescue. For each of these mortal sins, the church offers an antidote—and these are called the Seven Virtues. We find them in our scriptures, our shared experiences, the help of others, and the work we do as individuals, as a committee, a congregation, a conference, a denomination, a world-wide body of the followers of Jesus.

Charity is the antidote to Greed. Charity is opening our hearts, noticing real need in others, and offering help, by giving away what we own—and that includes our time and our talents. Charity is a way to reconnect with our brothers and sisters, who include all of creation. Our church offers us the opportunity to practice charity, whether it’s through our offering or our pledges, or volunteering at community lunches or homeless shelters, or working for justice, or helping fellow members in need.

Temperance is the antidote for Gluttony. This is not abstinence, although a fast can certainly help reconnect us with our true needs. Temperance means moderation: finding a balance between excess and self-denial. It also means self-control, being able to stop with just one drink, one dessert, one try at the lottery. For those of us who need help with that, the church sets aside a time of the year when we can consciously practice it—Lent—when we can thoughtfully embrace the virtue of Temperance. For those of us in more challenging struggles, the larger church community has created or inspired 12-step programs and other support groups.

The traditional antidote to Sloth—that is, apathy or indifference—is Diligence. Diligence looks for ways to reconnect, and creates bridges that reunite us with others and with ourselves. And our church offers us ways to practice. Diligence is using grape juice instead of wine as a way of standing in solidarity with our siblings in recovery. It is keeping the elevator functional so people with disabilities can come to church. It is using Zoom to include the whole world in this community. It is looking carefully at where our money and the church’s money is invested to be sure it is not doing harm. Diligence is our long-ago decision to be an Open and Affirming church that welcomes sisters and brothers of all orientations and gender identities.

Pride: don’t confuse this sin with Self-worth. The term “pride” has been claimed by many groups who have been historically shamed for who they are. Black Pride, LGBTQ+ Pride, Asian Pride, all say “We are whole and complete human beings. As children of God, we are intrinsically beautiful, and our ethnicity or color or gender or orientation is part of our wholeness. Therefore, it is beautiful.” In contrast, the sin of Pride demands that someone else feel smaller, so we can feel bigger. One side-effect of sinful Pride is Shame.

The antidote for the sin of Pride is Humility. This does not mean humiliation, not even self-humiliation. It means recognizing that I am valuable and special in the eyes of God. But so are you, and you, and you. And so is a Guatemalan woman trying to hold her life and family together at the border, and so is an unhoused man trying to stay warm in a tent on the sidewalk.

If you have been sick, or needy, or grieving, or lonely, or have had to ask for help—you have received the gift of Humility, the connectedness that makes us mutually dependent, and mutually dependable.

The antidote for Lust is Chastity—which does not necessarily mean being non-sexual or abstinent. Our sexuality is another gift from God, given to us as a way of expressing deep love, and of rejoicing in our physical selves. The novelist Robertson Davies defines Chastity as “having the body in the soul’s keeping,” which we might interpret as mindfulness. The UCC offers an age-appropriate educational program called Our Whole Lives, which places our sexuality in the context of our full personhood, body, soul, and spirit, at all stages of our lives.

Envy is cured by Kindness. Buddhists call this “sympathetic joy”—meaning, I take pleasure in your pleasure. How can I be anything but happy for you when I recognize that you and I are parts of one body? Our scriptures tell us that love is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful. And our church gives us plenty of opportunities to rejoice with others—a birth or baptism, a scholarship or a graduation, someone getting out of the hospital or rehab. Or how happy we are that each of us here can find a place for our own special talents—be that music, or speaking, or hospitality, or organizational skills, or making people feel welcome. Kindness also includes sharing sorrows, as we are there for each other in times of grief and loss.

Patience is the antidote for Wrath. Patience is endurance—sitting with our pain instead of lashing out in revenge. Patience gives us time to steady our breath and heartbeat, sort out what happened, ask questions, see the reality from a different point of view. Patience is open to discussion or even mediation. Patience gives us time to heal the rift between us.

Finally, there is the universal antidote: Gratitude. Think of something as simple as an apple. I have apples at home. I paid for them with my own retirement money that I earned on my job that I got totally on my own merits. I don’t owe anybody for those apples!

And yet. Think with me for a bit about how those apples ended up in my kitchen. Who helped get them there? There’s the checker, and the bagger, and the person who stocks the apple bin. Next, the trucker, and the persons who loaded and unloaded the truck. And so many more.


Gratitude allows us to reconnect, even through a bowl of apples, to dozens, hundreds of people—and other beings: trees, soil, sun, rain, honeybees. In Gratitude, we become the Apple Community. We take a step toward healing the world when we understand that there is really nothing we can do all by ourselves.

We have chosen to follow the path of love, of the I/Thou relationship, because we follow Jesus. And our relationship with Jesus brings us to this beloved community that watches out for neediness in our neighbors, that pours grape juice to protect our brothers and sisters from temptation, that opens its doors in welcome to all, that gives us opportunities to practice moderation and patience and kindness, and reminds us every Sunday to say thank you, thank you, thank you to God from whom all blessing flow.

And the church is not just a refuge from the sins of the world. It is a workshop, where we can practice discovering and living those virtues. These are the gifts the church endows us with, the antidotes we carry with us as we go through those doors, back into the world. They are both emergency first-aid kits and long-term vitamin regimens. They heal the immediate wounds of our souls and spirits as we experience the numbness or pain of separateness, and their long-term practice keeps us spiritually healthy, as we go about our work of helping to heal the world.

Charity, Diligence, Temperance, Patience, Chastity, Kindness, Humility, and Gratitude. Thank you, loving Creator and Sustainer, for these amazing gifts. Amen.

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