Avarice is the sin of greed. That's an easy definition. Maybe this should be a short post because we all know those other people who like to hoard money and wear all that gaudy gold and drive around in terribly inconvenient vehicles for the sake of thinking they are impressing people.
Ah yes, Greed. That flamboyant Hollywood playboy. That insatiable corporate executive. That bore who knows no other conversation besides their portfolio and real estate ventures.
As Mr. Burns says, “I'll keep it short and sweet — Family. Religion. Friendship. These are the three demons you must slay if you wish to succeed in business.”
This is the public face of avarice, and like all of the vices this popular persona hides and excuses a lot of more pernicious forms of greed.
Greed, one movie said a long time ago, is good. Most people agree, in deed if not always on paper.
That's a problem really, because admitting a sin is one of the key steps to overcoming it. Denying it exists, or only exists for other people makes for a lot of rationalizing and self-righteousness.
Mr. Burns is blatant in his greed. He lives for himself, thinks only of himself, accumulates wealth for the sake of accumulating wealth, steps on anyone who gets in his way, and will even attempt to block the sun itself in order to gain a few extra dollars.
Avarice, from this example, is the ruthless accumulation of wealth for personal gain, usually out of desire for power or acclaim.
This one is easy to spot. If this all it were, however, it might still be a deadly sin but hardly worth listing due to its relative scarcity. Unrestrained greed is the province of popes and kings and 19th century railroad tycoons, most of whom are now dead. Unrestrained greed, you see, requires the rare quality of unmitigated power. Even corporate executives find, at the end of the day, their power to be rather more mitigated than they would wish.
It doesn't take too far to go from the unacceptable unrestrained greed to the more valued and honored time tested avarice. Sometimes a few appearances at a charity function is all it takes.
However, avarice isn't limited to unabashed greed. If all sins merely included their unabashed versions we'd have much more clear lines in living our lives, and likely could stamp our driver's licenses with the appropriate symbol of good or evil.
Avarice isn't deadly because there are some supremely greedy people in this world. Avarice is deadly because it's substantially more devious than we think. It infests our very core and is likely is one of the pervasive sins among all people, those saved by Christ as well as those not.
So there's obvious greed. That's one aspect. Check that off the list of things most people aren't about. How about these things:
Avarice is not only about securing wealth for ourselves. It can also include any particular obsession with managing money or gathering it for any cause. For example, a person can be personally poor but they focus their lives on managing the money of charities or churches or other non-profit organizations. They live in a modest house, but seek a particularly noteworthy new building for their meetings, and go all out in making sure everyone hands over money. This obsession for money, this underhanded avarice, long ago infiltrated the Church making it seem somehow obvious that grand buildings and ornate decorations were impressive to God, all while God says something else. By making it seem righteous, this form of avarice can completely consume the soul of someone while making it seem such a person is a model Christian. This is also at the root of why oftentimes success in business lifts a man into an elder position while mere spirituality leaves one without much of a voice. That money is a sign of success in all things is avarice at work. Even if good works result, souls are lost.
Now, that is a definition folks will start to quibble with. Deadly sins are wily beasts.
Try this next one on for size.
Throughout the entirety of Scripture God says we are to trust him for our welfare. He feeds the birds and clothes the flowers and when the young ravens cry for sustenance he does a work. The future is glory, our lives are in his hands.
Yet who lives by this? Anyone anymore? Of course not. It is foolish to think that God is going to work in providing for our needs now and in the future. We need to hoard, for ourselves and for our children, because no one else will do it. We have to get into the intricacies of sundry retirement plans, invest for college, for the future, for emergencies. And we have to do it in a way that supports our neighbor matching lifestyle.
Disasters may come. Wars and rumors of wars and floods, or fires, or computer glitches, or any other unthinkable events can throw us off track. We must worry. We must fret. We must plan and keep planning and when the plans are made make backup plans. Poverty is no longer seen as a spiritual discipline because it's so clearly bad planning and poor stewardship. It's all right and good to put a little in the passed plate, but not so much as to invade our plans and security.
Obsession with our financial security. That's avarice too.
Most folks are shaking their heads now at these. Only it's pretty clear that folks who want to really know God and overcome the barriers of their sinfulness have to see avarice as not only a rabid weasel but also as a elegant swan. It is deadly precisely because it makes sense and we can convince ourselves to guide our lives, sacrificing our devotions to God in its altar. It is why churches become established then stale. It is why radicals become entrenched and staid. It is why fires go out, excitement dies down, eagerness wanes, and the fluid work of the Spirit hardens into inflexible concrete.
We see here the great difficulty with unraveling the most pernicious sorts of sins. They are not blatant evils but at times can point to great goods, and there may in fact be a fine line between the holy and the sinful in any given action. It is not wrong to make money, or have investments or do any of those other things which money allows. Except, of course, when such things are wrong, as they may in fact be either in total or in degree given the individual. This line is a matter of the most sensitive discernment to figure out.
Sorting these things out is why we need the Spirit to guide us and humility to always listen. Because unlike what Mr. Burns declared family, friends, and religion aren't necessarily the demons to be conquered in order to indulge avarice. They may be, in fact, the angels of light that lead us ever so gently down the road to hell.
Patrick Oden lives and works in the mountains of Southern California. Education web design pays the bills. Writing and enjoying the beauty of God's Creation fills his soul.