Seven Deadly Virtues
Then He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, be killed, and rise after three days. And He was openly talking about this. So Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But turning around and looking at His disciples, He rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind Me, Satan, because you're not thinking about God's concerns, but man's!" – Mark 8:31-33 HCSB
In our war on the yetzer hara, the negative impulse, which most Christians identify as the sin nature, we usually focus on the seven big bad sins. We watch out for lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. Christianity has developed these particular sins into a “who’s who” of carnality as though they were in some way worse than any other sin.
Christian thinkers have also developed a list of seven holy virtues, one virtue as the polar opposite of each vice. They are: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, forgiveness, kindness and humility.
Sometimes strength of character involves subduing even one’s yetzer hatov, or good inclinations. A man’s post-operative and feverish mother once begged him, with tears in her eyes, for a small drink of water. He refused. He refused because the surgeon had absolutely forbidden her to consume anything by mouth. Had he yielded to his naturally kind inclination to comfort his mother, he might have killed her.
As the Master described His coming rejection, torture and death, Peter listened with deep concern. He loved Yeshua and did not want this fate to befall him. Out of kindness and sympathy Peter tried to get his Master to stop saying these terrible things. Perhaps he thought that by repeating them, Yeshua would create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless of his reasoning – we can be sure that Peter’s desire and inclination was driven by loyalty.
That loyalty in this case became a sin. It was wrong for Peter to feel as he did. He was sinning by not acquiescing to God’s will. That is, after all, the underlying foundation of all sin is it not? Didn’t Adam and Eve think they knew better than God? Didn’t Moses think he knew better than God when he argued “Please! Send someone else – someone who doesn’t stutter!” Didn’t King Saul think he knew better when he failed to wait for Samuel and offered the sacrifice himself? Didn’t David think he was doing “the right thing” when he attempted to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem by ox cart?
Forgiveness is a virtue until we choose to forgive what God does not. Kindness is a virtue until is fails to properly deal with sin. Humility is wonderful until it causes us to doubt God’s ability to use us and leads us to hesitate to follow His leading.
In our war on the yetzer hara, the tzaddikim must also be alert to the dangers of too much virtue.
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