Greed is the surprising accompaniment to almost all our sins.
We all like lists. They help create organized presentations, and they are easy to remember. Perhaps that is why God chose a list format to present some of his most well-known laws. But what if we took that list — the Ten Commandments — and reduced it to its essence? What basic sins would we identify? One hopelessly alliterative preacher condensed the Decalogue to a clever three-point quip: man’s chief temptations are “gold, girls, and glory.” Gary Downing, in his article “Accountability That Makes Sense,” agrees, calling them “the three issues with which we all struggle: money, sex, and power.”
But perhaps we could distill even further, to a sort of grand unifying sin: greed. It is the misplaced love and desire that drives broken hearts to seek joy, fulfillment, and significance in anything other than God.
That is, in fact, how Randy Rowland describes greed in his piece on the seven deadly sins. “Greed can take many forms,” he notes. It can be “the desire for money, position, power, prestige, perks … an insatiable hunger for bigger budgets, bigger buildings, and more bodies in the pews.” Greed always lurks nearby wherever sin resides. In fact, it is a surprising accompaniment to three rather familiar sins.
Greed is more than just another word for materialism; it also expresses itself in sexual sin. Why else would God command us, “You shall not covet … your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant” (Exodus 20:17, emphasis mine)? When the usual suspect, material lust, couples with sexual greed, the result is America’s porn industry, which began to flourish in 1958 with the publication of Hugh Hefner’s first Playboy. In less than half a century, one lonely man’s misplaced desire has turned our entire culture upside down. For according to Read Mercer Schuchardt in “Hugh Hefner’s Hollow Victory,” Hefner and his ilk earn over $10 billion a year capitalizing on consumers’ thwarted longing for love.
Our natural drive to love and be loved, when frustrated, suppressed, or abused, can mutate into a consuming greed for unnatural relationships or extramarital sex. In the Leadership Library book Sins of the Body, counselors Hal B. Schell and Gary Sweeten describe how their clients fall into the trap of sexual addiction. For many of them, including Don, a frequent customer of prostitutes and porn shops, Claire, a high-priced call girl addicted to prostitution, and Jan, a church musician compulsively seeking homosexual experiences, greed begins in a wounded heart. Trauma and repeated bad choices pervert natural desires for love, significance, and relationship into greedy addictions to sex, power, and abuse.
While helping these clients, Schell and Sweeten employ a team strategy for their counseling sessions in order to prevent transference and temptation. The risk of temptation is significant, as a 1988 Leadership poll on pastoral indiscretion proves. One out of every five pastors who admitted to sexual contact outside marriage indicated the encounter arose through a counseling situation. A more recent report on internet porn use among pastors suggests leaders are prone to sexual greed when they fail to nurture loving and healthy relationships. “Pastors are as vulnerable as anyone else to sexual sin,” notes therapist Harry Schaumburg. “In fact, they may be more vulnerable. Isolation and loneliness are inherent to the position. And many pastors neglect their personal relationships for the sake of ministry.”
Such obsession with work can be another manifestation of misplaced or frustrated love. In “Confessions of a Workaholic,” Ralph Milton explains how the work-addicted person attempts to become indispensable on the job, failing in the process to nurture his relationships with others. Then when his relationships sour, work becomes an escape from painful reality. In fact, Milton even suggests “dependence on overwork and dependence on overeating are psychologically very similar to drug dependence.”
And yes, greedy eating can also bear out this distorted longing for love and comfort. The Christian dieting industry, however, often avoids the terms greed or gluttony. An observation Dennis Okholm makes may explain why: “Of the seven deadly sins, gluttony seems the least culpable because it is a vice that arises from our nature. We require food to survive, and food usually brings pleasurable sensations to the palate.” But when the belly becomes a god, the proper balance between need and pleasure disappears. The evil of greedy eating is not in the food itself, nor in its accompanying pleasure. Instead, the sin lies in how we think about food and why we consume it. Gluttony “refers to a desire or a longing that seeks filling. It is an ‘exaggerated and misplaced longing.'”
Indeed, whatever the addiction or vice, each is symptomatic of unfulfilled longing, misplaced love, and debased worship.
(Note: Most of the articles linked above require paid membership at CTLibrary.com to view, but if you’re the kind of person who enjoys reading Christianity Today, Leadership, Books & Culture, or Christian History & Biography, it may well be worth it. Also, though I was once employed by Christianity Today, I do not personally benefit from any transactions through these sites.)
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