This saying has long been attributed to the Bible, but the actual text it refers to reads slightly differently:
“Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” – Proverbs 16: 18
But what exactly is pride? Why is it so deadly? And how does it exactly trip us up?
Pride is one of the 7 Deadly Sins, as described by the medieval Catholic Church. In fact, the Christian tradition considers it be the deadliest of the sins.
Because it prevents us from changing.
All the other sins, when someone is committing them or is tempted to do so, still has hope. Hope that they can see the error of their ways, repent and reform. For example: if you were tempted to steal a wallet you had just seen someone accidentally drop on the floor, in the process you would still be aware, by your God given conscience, that it was a wrong thing to do.
Right up to the point of doing it, and beyond, there is still scope that you will appease your conscience, and admit that stealing is wrong. There is scope for change, for redemption.
However, with the sin of pride, there is no such hope. For pride, most dangerously, prevents us from changing. It blinds us to the truth, and actually skews our perception in a way that threatens our very well being and right standing before God.
CS Lewis put it like this: “The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began.”
Pride caused the angels to fall from Heaven; it rose in the heart of Adam and Eve and caused them to eat the forbidden fruit, casting them, and us, out of Paradise.
But what exactly is Pride?
If you look it up in the dictionary, you will see it likened to concepts such as vanity, ego, arrogance, over-confidence, and conceit. It is essentially thinking too much of yourself. Leading medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas called it “inordinate self-love”.
In a spiritual sense, pride is essentially the placing of the self above others, and above God. It’s a form of malignant self-centredness that places the person right at the centre of their thinking and actions, no matter the consequences for others.
It, not money, is the root of all evil.
In the classical world, the term used for the sin of Pride was Hubris.
In ancient Athens, like the Christian world, this sin was seen as the deadliest cancer that can infect human beings. In the Ancient Greek religion, Nemesis was the Goddess who would always take retribution on those who were guilty of hubris. Nemesis believed that no-one should have too much goodness in their lives, and she always cursed those who had been cursed with countless gifts, as it often led to hubris.
The Greek myth of Icarus and Daedalus was used to illustrate the grave potential consequences of committing hubris. The story goes that it happened that Daedalus and his son Icarus were stranded on the Island of Crete. Daedalus, who was a master craftsman, hatched a plan for he and his son to escape by making them both a set of wings out of wax and feathers.
So, they made their escape, and flew out into the sea, to escape the island. But Icarus was enjoying the trip so much that he forgot his father’s warning to not fly too high. So he did, the sun melted the wax in his wings, and he crashed down into the sea.
The myth is a morality tale, warning against the dangers of hubris, of flying too close to the sun. It’s essentially a warning about over-reaching yourself; of the lethal dangers of trying to be God-like. If you ever do so, the tale teaches us you will swiftly find your Nemesis and crash into the sea like Icarus.
Back to the proverb
So, we can go back to the Biblical proverb, and see it emphasises the destructive power of pride – “pride goes before destruction…” The writer of this proverb obviously had a few ways to phrase it, but they chose the word destruction above others. I think this echoes the Christian tradition’s extreme horror and dire warning about this deadliest of sins.
I think the worst thing about pride is that you mostly don’t realise you are committing it. You just think you are being “right”. In this sense pride is a hidden sin, and, as I mentioned above, can easily blind you to the truth. In this way self-righteousness is another term for pride.
Be wary and don’t be ensnared!