Control is the Quintessence of Virtue

 

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Now, I’m no Catholic, but I’ll admit they get almost everything right as far as general doctrine goes, as far as I’m aware. In particular, the doctrine of the deadly sins was and is intriguing to me. I first encountered  this doctrine as anything more than a cultural phenomenon when I read an article (which I have no idea how to find) that discussed a major shift in the perception of sin. Its basic premise was that sin, or the perception of its “badness,” had shifted from one of considering the internal motivation that lead to the disobedience in question to considering its effect. The popularity of this utilitarian approach is why “victimless” sins like homosexuality and the fundamental Christian seeming obsession with it is so baffling to secular commentators. It’s a relic of the archaic and, I’ll argue, more doctrinally sound view of sin that prestiges the will and its alignment with God and His will, rather than the outward appearance or impact a sinful behavior has. In my consideration of this change and the doctrine of the 7 deadly sins, I came up with what is, to date, my only original axiom: Control is the quintessence of virtue.

This seems strange in light of the frequent and perfectly Biblically sound interdiction to submit to the authority of God, however, I’ll take the submission of will as a given for the sake of argument. Now, as fallen creatures, we have desires that are not righteous. These desires are perfectly natural to us. However, that does not make them good, or their fulfillment an act of righteousness. Indeed, as it is written:

“but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1: 14-15 (NIV)

 

As you are no doubt aware, doing what you know you ought to do, even if it isn’t a matter of righteousness per se is an often-difficult task. Doing so in the case of righteous behavior can be more challenging still. Take the words of Paul:

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Romans 7:15 (NIV)

We see, therefore, that the task before us is an impossible one: one of the greatest of Christ’s disciples failed, and we are certain to as well. That fact, at least to a perfectionist like me, was ultimately freeing. However, despite the inevitability of our shortfall, we are not excused from making every effort to train ourselves to suborn our desires to our will and, therefore, to God’s.

The question becomes: how? Here we come to a doctrine I think the Catholic Church gets a bit wrong – confession. Confession in the formal sense, with its retention of anonymity, removes the aspect of accountability that motivates actual repentance: a change in the unrighteous behavior. As it is written:

“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Proverbs 28:13

“Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” James 5:16 (NIV)

We see by these verses that it is confession amongst one’s peers that allows for healing. This more open confession allows for accountability – something of a watch word in Christian circles these days, but nonetheless a crucial aspect of a Christ follower’s walk. We’ll touch on that later in what I plan to be the blog’s first series on community. For now, we’ll satisfy ourselves that a more public confession motivates change more readily than an anonymous one would.

The change desired is one, as mentioned above, of submitting the base impulses to the higher will. This submission is inimical to us, no matter the ingenuousness of our rational aspiration to it. Thus, we must look beyond ourselves to the aforementioned accountability among our peers, but also to the empowerment which Christ promised to those that love Him. Here again we come to the theme of several previous posts – what it means to love God and the concept of strange loops. Those posts go into some detail and I’ll leave the specifics to them, but, essentially, desire to love God is, simply expressed, the desire to obey and be like Him. This desire manifests in what Lewis refers to as “halting steps” which are no less pleasing to God for their ineptitude. Indeed, they are so pleasing to God He, in His Grace, meets us where we are and provides for us the strength to stride, like a Colossus, to do His good works. So doing, we grow closer to, and depend more completely upon Him, thus enabling greater ability to perform His calling in our lives. And who can say, even the man in question, whether it was his will, after learning of God, to move closer to Him, or whether God inspired it from even before knowledge came to the man?

It is in controlling our impulses to carnal things that we free ourselves to conform more perfectly to the image of Christ, and we do so by the “…Blood of the Lamb and by the word of their Testimony.” (Revelation 12:11 NIV). And that is how we become “more than conquerors.”

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