It’s a well-established axiom that practical wisdom comes to older adults as they reflect back on lifetimes of experience. I have wondered how that truism might relate to our sinfulness—whether we who are older can still experience any of the “seven deadly sins.”
To review: those transgressions— originally identified by the *Desert Fathers—include greed, lust, sloth, gluttony, wrath, pride and envy. They’re deadly because, as part of our ongoing lifestyles, their constant indulgence can eventually result in our untimely ends.
But when we’re older, do we engage these misdeeds in the same ways we did when we were younger? Or have we somehow transcended these garden-variety offenses because of our wisdom? The theologically accurate answer goes something like this: However sinfulness has changed over our lifetimes, we remain sinners. We are still in need of confession, repentance and forgiveness.
Most of these failings seem to be framed in terms of misanthropic activity—things we do that hurt others. So, by virtue of our life stages, if we’re generally less active, are we less capable of active sinning? Again, the singe of theological truth: We can still commit these capital sins in our thoughts or attitudes. Confession beckons.
One other thought: The Desert Fathers observed that there might be Christ-like virtues that mitigated the effects of the deadly sins. By their reckoning, chastity, charity, temperance, diligence, kindness, patience and humility could counter-balance sinfulness. Perhaps these are places where our older adult wisdom—lifetime experience—comes in? Where we can count the buoyancy of God’s grace and the Spirit’s inspiration to grant us some measure of insight as we seek and practice these virtues?
While I’m waiting to parse these questions, I’m sticking with the notion that confession, repentance and forgiveness will remain necessary throughout my life.
That seems wise….
*These 3rd century monks and nuns lived in the deserts of Egypt, as hermits or gathered into ascetic communities. Their influence extends into contemplative or self-denying expressions of contemporary Christianity.
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