My small group is in the process of reading through and discussing Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Tuesday night we had a spirited discussion about the chapter on pride. Lewis wrote that the greatest sin is Pride or self-conceit. It is a sin that is at the root of all other sin; the “utmost evil” and the “essential vice.” Pride is simply putting the self before all others in any and every instance. It is an excessive self-love and sets self up as the ultimate authority. It is the exact opposite of humility.
Having read Mere Christianity back in college, I loved the book and got a lot out of it that has shaped my Christian beliefs ever since. I found the chapter on Pride particularly insightful because it did such a good job helping me boiling down the essence of sin. I came to view sin of any kind as being some kind of derivative of Pride; some way of Pride manifesting itself.
In Christianity, Pride is considered to be the downfall of Satan, who viewed himself as being equal to God. It was this lie, this misplaced belief, that Satan then sold to Adam and Eve causing sin to enter creation. It wasn’t the fruit that Adam and Eve ate that was the sin. It was the act of
disobeying God’s command to not eat from the tree. And what was the motivation behind that act? They bought into the idea that they would be “like God.” Satan appealed to their Pride, their desire to be more or greater. This is just one of many examples of why the phrase “Pride cometh before the fall” exists. Not just The Fall of Man, but in every instance where someone falls from grace or does something wrong, Pride is right there in the midst of it all.
I honestly believe that Pride is at work every time we sin. Because every time we sin, we are saying with our actions that we know better than God. This means we set ourselves up as our own god. Because of this, we do not acknowledge God’s rightful authority, which means we are not acting in humility. And Pride is the opposite of humility.
This idea that Pride is among the chief sins is a long held belief in Christian thought. Lewis did not originate this idea. Lewis set out in Mere Christianity to “explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” He was not saying anything new when he wrote that “Pride leads to every other vice; it is the complete anti-God state of mind.” Christians as varied as St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, Matthew Henry, and John Stott have commented on the seriousness of Pride as the chief of all sins. Part of the reason why Pride is so dangerous is that it is so difficult to for us to see it in ourselves and incredibly easy to see it in others.
This is why I love Mere Christianity because Lewis couches the chapter on Pride in between the chapters of Forgiveness and Charity(Christian love). In these chapters, particularly in the one on Forgiveness, Lewis brings up the concept of “hate the sin, not the sinner.” This seems like a difficult thing to actually do, but we have a perfect example, how we treat ourselves. We are far more forgiving of ourselves than we are of others. Lewis is saying that we should treat others in the same manner, which is really just another expression of the golden rule to love God and others as we love ourselves. By extending to others the same forgiveness that we extend to ourselves, we help to keep our pride in check and stay humble.
Saying that Pride is the greatest sin may make us say, “Well, God says that sin is sin in his eyes. No sin is greater than any other sin.” This is true, but only insofar as it relates to God. In his eyes, sin is sin because it creates that separation between us and God. It doesn’t matter if the divide between us and God is a foot or a football field. The important thing in God’s eyes is the existence of a divide. But when it comes to us and sin, not all sin is created equally. It has an impact on the soul, what Lewis refers to as that “tiny central stuff that no one else sees” in that some things may be more damaging to us in the short term or long term than others. But it also has a real world impact that can affect our daily lives and also the lives of countless people around us. What is so dangerous about Pride is its ability to almost seamlessly blend into the background and go undetected. Like a disease, the longer something goes undiagnosed, the worse things usually are.
In the end, Pride is something every human being must deal with, both from within us and from outside sources. The only way to combat Pride is humility, and in extending to others the grace and forgiveness that God has shown toward us.