The para­dox of pride and hu­mil­ity

Sunday Express - - LEADER - Thomas Tar­rants

RiDE is your great­est en­emy, hu­mil­ity is your great­est friend.”

So said the late John R.W. Stott, a re­mark­ably hum­ble man of great abil­i­ties and ac­com­plish­ments who is of­ten said to have made the great­est im­pact for Christ of any­one in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury.

His suc­cinct state­ment about pride and hu­mil­ity goes straight to the heart of what the Bi­ble teaches about the deadly root of our sins and sor­rows.

How many re­cent ser­mons have you heard on pride or hu­mil­ity? Prob­a­bly not many. One hears sur­pris­ingly lit­tle from church or parachurch lead­ers about ei­ther of th­ese sub­jects.

in fact, what through­out his­tory has been recog­nised as the dead­li­est of vices is now al­most cel­e­brated as a virtue in our cul­ture.

Pride and ar­ro­gance are con­spic­u­ous among the rich, the pow­er­ful, the suc­cess­ful, the fa­mous, and celebri­ties of all sorts, and even some re­li­gious lead­ers.

And it is also alive and well in or­di­nary peo­ple, in­clud­ing each of us. Yet few of us re­alise how danger­ous it is to our souls and how greatly it hin­ders our in­ti­macy with God and love for oth­ers.

Hu­mil­ity, on the other hand, is of­ten seen as a weak­ness, and few of us know much about it or pur­sue it. For the good of our souls, then, we need to gain a clearer un­der­stand­ing of pride and hu­mil­ity and of how to for­sake the one and em­brace the other.

C.S. Lewis, an­other top con­tender for hav­ing had the great­est im­pact for Christ in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, called pride “the great sin.”

Ev­ery be­liever should read his chap­ter by that ti­tle in Mere Chris­tian­ity. There Lewis said: ‘Ac­cord­ing to Chris­tian teach­ers, the es­sen­tial vice, the ut­most evil, is Pride. Un­chastity, anger, greed, drunk­en­ness, and all that, are mere flea bites in com­par­i­son: it was through Pride that the devil be­came the devil: Pride leads to ev­ery other vice: it is the com­plete anti-God state of mind…… it is Pride which has been the chief cause of mis­ery in ev­ery na­tion and ev­ery fam­ily since the world be­gan.”

if this sounds like ex­ag­ger­a­tion, it will help us to know that Lewis is not sim­ply giv­ing us his pri­vate opin­ion but sum­maris­ing the think­ing of great saints through the ages.

Au­gus­tine and Aquinas both taught that pride was the root of sin. Like­wise Calvin, Luther, and many oth­ers. Make no mis­take about it: pride is the great sin. it is the devil’s most ef­fec­tive and de­struc­tive tool.

Why do the great spir­i­tual lead­ers, Catholic, Eastern Or­tho­dox, and Protes­tant alike, unite around this con­vic­tion? Be­cause it is so clearly and solidly taught in Scrip­ture.

Pride first ap­pears in the Bi­ble in Ge­n­e­sis 3, where we see the devil, that “proud spirit” as John Donne de­scribed him, us­ing pride as the av­enue by which to se­duce our first par­ents. Tak­ing the form of a ser­pent, his ap­proach was sim­ple yet deadly. First, he ar­ro­gantly con­tra­dicted what God had said to Eve about eat­ing the for­bid­den fruit and charged God with ly­ing.

This shock­ing re­jec­tion of God’s word in­tro­duced Eve to the hith­erto un­known pos­si­bil­ity of un­be­lief and was in­tended to arouse doubt in her mind about the truth­ful­ness and re­li­a­bil­ity of God.

in the next breath, the devil drew her into deeper de­cep­tion by con­tend­ing that God’s rea­son for ly­ing was to keep her from en­joy­ing all the pos­si­bil­i­ties in­her­ent in be­ing God­like.

This clever ploy was aimed at un­der­min­ing her con­fi­dence in the good­ness and love of God and arous­ing the de­sire to be­come as God.

The de­sire to lift up and exalt our­selves be­yond our place as God’s crea­ture lies at the heart of pride. As Eve in her now con­fused and de­ceived state of mind con­sid­ered the pos­si­bil­i­ties, her de­sire to be­come God­like grew stronger.

She be­gan to look at the for­bid­den fruit in a new light, as some­thing at­trac­tive to the eyes and pleas­ant to the touch.

De­sire in­creased, giv­ing rise to ra­tio­nal­iza­tion and a cor­re­spond­ing ero­sion of the will to re­sist and say no.

Fi­nally, weak­ened by un­be­lief, en­ticed by pride, and en­snared by self-de­cep­tion, she opted for au­ton­omy and dis­obeyed God’s com­mand. in just a few deft moves, the devil was able to use pride to bring about Eve’s down­fall and plunge the hu­man race into spir­i­tual ruin.

This an­cient but all-too-familiar process con­fronts each of us daily: “Each per­son is tempted when he is lured and en­ticed by his own de­sire. Then de­sire when it has con­ceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” ( James 1:14–15).

From this point on in the Bi­ble, we see the out­work­ing of pride and un­be­lief in the af­fairs of in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies, na­tions, and cul­tures. As peo­ple lose or sup­press the knowl­edge of God, spir­i­tual dark­ness grows and a psy­cho­log­i­cal in­ver­sion oc­curs: in their think­ing God be­comes smaller and they be­come larger. The cen­tre of grav­ity in their men­tal lives shifts from God to them­selves.

They be­come the cen­tre of their world, and God is con­ve­niently moved to the pe­riph­ery, ei­ther through de­nial of his ex­is­tence or dis­tor­tion of his char­ac­ter. Self-im­por­tance and god­less self-con­fi­dence grow stronger. The cy­cle that fol­lows is familiar: peo­ple exalt them­selves against God and over oth­ers. Pride in­creases, ar­ro­gant and/or abu­sive be­hav­iour en­sues, and peo­ple suf­fer.

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