Over the past couple of years I’ve been trying to figure out if there is any one, worst possible personality trait for a person to have. Call it a vanity project, I guess, a description that also fits because for most of that time I would have said that pride was that trait.
I started musing over this about seven years ago when I went with a group of people on a missions trip to Mexico. During my time there we exclusively studied the book of James. With all due disrespect to Martin Luther, I found the time spent in James incredibly enlightening and convicting. I was convicted of a number of things through the Word, but the one I remember most vividly and that has affected my life even to this day was realizing just how much I had let my arrogant pride take control of my life. And how thoroughly that sin was destroying my relationships.
While the Bible tells us that a small sin doesn’t make you any less of a corrupt being than a great sin, it does recognize different degrees of sin. Whether it’s Jesus talking about Judas Iscariot, or
Which is why for a long time I would have said that pride is the worst attribute to have. While gluttony, greed, envy, wrath, and lust are usually treated as equals to pride (though the exact list has changed over the years), it’s not hard to imagine any of them having pride as their underlying cause.
Still, as destructive as pride can be in that regard, recently it seems to me that there’s one even more destructive sin: Accidy, which is usually translated “sloth,” but in its original meaning would be better understood as apathy.
Apathy can be the motivation behind just as many destructive behaviors as pride, but it’s far more insidious for a very important reason. Whereas pride is an unrighteous attitude, apathy is the absence of a righteous attitude, or any attitude at all. Because of this it seems harmless and is therefore a far more deceptive personality flaw.
But the cancer of apathy goes deeper than just its insidious nature. Of the deadly sins, all of them can be categorized in at least one of two positive ways that apathy cannot.
First of all, each of the other deadly sins actually derives from an attribute of God. That may seem like nonsense at first, but there actually is a lot of logic to it. After all, human beings are created in the image of God, so we should naturally have aspects of His character reflected in our own. However, we’re also corrupt beings, and those character aspects, likewise, have become corrupt. We also see this reflected in scripture. God’s wrath is (hopefully) obvious, but most people I’ve talked to disagree with me about pride. After all, they’ll point out that Jesus, God incarnate, ate with the lepers and washed his disciples’ feet.
While this is certainly true and would reflect a high degree of humility on Christ’s part, it doesn’t, I would argue, represent a holistic interpretation of the Bible. It’s important to remember that Jesus is the same in person and character in the New Testament and the Old. This is, therefore, the same God who demands to be worshiped and served by all people at all times, and who, in response to Moses asking His name, simply responded “I AM,” as if His existence is a self-evident fact; as if the very existence of the universe were dependent on Him.
He’s right, of course; it is and it does. But that doesn’t make God humble, it only makes His pride not sinful. That’s the key: when God asserts those aspects of His character reflected in the deadly sins, he does so righteously. When we do so, we frequently do it unrighteously.
But because those traits are aspects of a good God, in and of themselves they cannot be bad. There’s a time and a place for them. Wrath is appropriately expressed toward injustice, just as lust is right to feel in the proper context.
There is no proper application of apathy. As Adam Ford has pointed out wonderfully in this comic, the very act of saying “I don’t care” is to say “This issue is not important enough to God that He would have me, as His representative on Earth, take a position on it.”
To serve God is to love what He loves, hate what He hates, and be indifferent toward those things He is indifferent toward. Unfortunately, there’s nothing God doesn’t care about. This is a God who, despite maintaining a universe billions of light years across, takes time to notice a dying bird. Who cares about me so much He knows how many hairs I have.
Okay, so in my case that last one isn’t very impressive, but the principle remains. If there is nothing God is apathetic toward, there ought to be nothing we are apathetic toward.
While that reason in itself should be sufficient for Christians, there is also another, more practical distinction between apathy and the other deadly sins. While apathy represents a lack of care, most sins are sins of passion. Although passion can cause problems of its own, any act of passion can be used to create. As a passionless sin, apathy cannot create, and therefore cannot improve anyone’s life in any way.
It should come as no surprise that it takes passion to create. After all, this too is a way in which we reflect our Creator, who, in contrast to most (particularly ancient) gods cares deeply for His creation. A passion for food (gluttony) can lead a person to discover new ways to prepare and enjoy food. A passion for money (greed) can drive a person to establish a successful company that becomes a mainstay of the economy… That sounded a lot less like right-wing propaganda in my head, I swear. Still, greed, while far from good, is a passion, and therefore a powerful motivator.
For all the time I’ve spent decrying pride, it’s very easy to see its potential influence here. I recall many times in school, for example, that I would receive a low score on a paper or assignment and use that shame to motivate myself to spend more time studying to do better in the future.
And I wouldn’t consider any of these to be (necessarily) proper applications of these passions. In my case I can definitely say it wasn’t. There was nothing righteous in not wanting my classmates to think I was dumb. But even my selfish motivations helped me get a better education, which I can now use to help my students.
Apathy can provide no similar motivation. It cannot be applied correctly, and when applied incorrectly it cannot be used to help anyone, in any way, in the present or in the future.
This may be just my own perspective, but in what I do every day, I don’t believe anything is more frustrating, damaging, or unproductive than apathy. It is the single worst character trait a person can have, and the world already has all the apathy it can stand.
For the love of God, be passionate.