Last month, we discussed the link between the Seven Deadly Sins and the many character defects commonly associated with alcoholism and addiction. But if we are to overcome these character flaws, we must in turn look toward the Seven Heavenly Virtues. These stem originally from the Four Cardinal Virtues (justice, courage, prudence and temperance) and the Three Theological Virtues (faith, hope and charity). That said, the Seven Heavenly Virtues are not a mere combination of these lists. Before we begin our series on each of these virtues and how they are vital to recovery, we would like to briefly introduce each one below.
If we assume that each of the Seven Heavenly Virtues is the opposite of one of the Seven Deadly Sins, then diligence would be the opposite of sloth. It is somewhat aligned with courage, or fortitude, especially in the way we defined courage in our article on the Serenity Prayer—the sense to change what must be changed. Those who are diligent are steadfast, always seeking to do what is right whenever possible. Unlike those who succumb to sloth, those who practice the Seven Heavenly Virtues must be willing to do more than simply let life pass them by. They must always strive to be the best possible versions of themselves.
When practicing the Seven Heavenly Virtues, we must do so in all facets of our lives. Diligence requires us to budget our time wisely, to focus upon productivity, and to keep our eyes open for changes that must be made to our lives if we are to remain sober and carefree. In other words, we might say that diligence factors heavily into relapse prevention. If we begin to suffer an emotional disturbance, we must tell someone within our support network immediately. We cannot simply sit around and hope the problem goes away. This will only lead us to ruin.
The opposite of gluttony is temperance, which is often associated with sobriety itself. In this case, however, it is more likely associated with prudence. This is not mere abstinence from drug or alcohol abuse, but rather a sense of restraint. In the course of our addiction, we were often lacking inhibitions. Temperance allows us to get those back, and to lead a life based upon mindfulness rather than sheer compulsion. The same may be said of all the Seven Heavenly Virtues, but temperance is of particular importance in this regard.
Temperance is seen by some as having loose ties to justice, simply because we must learn to practice what is right instead of simply what is in our own self-interest. This gives temperance some ties to diligence as well. The difference between these two of the Seven Heavenly Virtues is that diligence is all about doing what is right, whereas temperance is all about considering what is right. For this reason, one might say that it is impossible to practice true diligence without maintaining a sense of temperance. This is one stark similarity between the Seven Heavenly Virtues and the Seven Deadly Sins—while each sin or virtue may stand on its own, all seven are often linked in one form or another.
Chastity shares links to many of the Four Cardinal Virtues and the Three Theological Virtues. We largely define chastity as sexual abstinence or purity (the opposite of lust), but there is more to it than that. A person who is described as chaste may be described as such because of their unending sense of hope and faith, their lack of worldly temptation, and their dedication to maintaining a sense of self-discipline. This means they will likely practice a fair amount of prudence as well, and temperance will be practically second-nature to them.
Many have linked honesty and wisdom to chastity as well. Some even believe that good health and hygiene are important to chastity. With so many factors combined, this gives chastity possibly the most loaded definition of all the Seven Heavenly Virtues. But if a person is honest, faithful, and generally practices others among the Seven Heavenly Virtues (especially temperance), they might be defined as chaste according to this definition. For those who seek biblical self-awareness in regard to this definition of chastity, look no further than Noah—Uriel, the angel often associated with chastity, was the one who warned Noah of the flood. His willingness to undertake the massive task set before him demonstrates Noah as nothing if not a man of good faith.
It may confuse some to learn that kindness is the opposite of envy. But this makes a little more sense when considering that people are often told to pray for those against whom they are harboring anger, as prayer is one of the primary means of letting go of resentments. We must learn to feel empathy for those who have wronged us. To quote a man whose name you might have heard before, we must “turn the other cheek.”
Note that kindness does not necessarily mean forgiveness—this is embodied in another of the Seven Heavenly Virtues, which we will address shortly. But kindness certainly helps in this regard. It also helps with charity, the next of the Seven Heavenly Virtues on our list. The reason we focus upon resentments here is simply that a person who can be kind to those who have wronged them can learn to be kind to anyone. Kindness is also much more than compassion. Trust and loyalty factor heavily into it. For kindness is more than simply how we treat another human being—it is embodied in how we view that person on the whole. With the proper worldview, kindness will never be difficult to achieve.
It should go without saying that charity is the opposite of greed. Like most of the Seven Heavenly Virtues, this one has distinct ties to the others—primarily kindness. It stands to reason that kindness is something of a prerequisite for charity, but charity takes a lot more effort. When we are charitable, we go out of our way to help others. We often associate charity with donating money to various causes, but we might demonstrate charity by donating our time as well.
This is one of the primary reasons we are generally expected to perform service work while we are working a program of recovery. Not out of tribute to the Seven Heavenly Virtues, but because charity is important to a solid recovery program. If we wish to stay sober, we must get outside of the selfishness that once ruled our lives. We must learn that other people deserve to have their wants and needs fulfilled every bit as much as we do. If we are trying to improve ourselves this season, we should find new ways of taking service commitments. This will be a boon to our recovery.
The opposite of wrath is patience, which may seem like a bit of a stretch. But much like chastity, patience is one of those Seven Heavenly Virtues that means a bit more in this context than we might be inclined to realize at first. Patience is very much related to temperance, but is also related to hope and faith in the sense that we must not leap to conclusions regarding our fate. We must practice acceptance, and we must pursue Step Three in our willingness to surrender control and truly believe that things will work out for the best—even if this means that we will not always get what we want.
As for wrath, we should remember that it can take a lot of patience to achieve a sense of forgiveness. Patience and understanding are inexorably linked, especially when we are dealing with the potential shortcomings of others. But we cannot practice the Seven Heavenly Virtues with anger in our hearts, and we cannot free our hearts of anger if we are putting untold amounts of energy toward the hatred of another person. Many people were patient with us while we were in active addiction. It is time for us to return the favor.
Humility is the opposite of pride and, much as pride is often referred to as the source of the rest of the Seven Deadly Sins, humility may be seen as the source of all Seven Heavenly Virtues. Some confuse humility with humiliation, and believe that it comes down to how much guilt we feel over our previous actions. But this is not quite accurate. Humility is instead a sense of modesty that allows us to juxtapose our strengths against our shortcomings. It is the realization that we are not perfect, nor are we all-important. We are simply human beings.
Anyone wishing to embrace the Seven Heavenly Virtues must absolutely forgo their pride and learn to practice humility. It is one of the most fundamental principles of recovery, allowing us to seek grace through the fellowship of our recovery community rather than constantly seeking to view ourselves as somehow better than the rest of our peers. Without humility and the rest of the Seven Heavenly Virtues, many of us will not be sober for very long. This realization may seem grim, but it has saved many lives. It is time to begin thinking about whether or not you would like to save your own.