Elevation

by mindfuldisciple

Rochdale_Unitarian_Church_'Humility'Here’s a little theological quiz for you: what was the first sin?

If you replied rebellion or disobedience, you’re correct sequentially but not chronologically. For though the fall of mankind is depicted in the Bible’s opening pages, by this time the Satan already fell.

It is correct to use the definite article, by the way, because Satan is not a proper name but a title, being Hebrew for ‘adversary.’ As Christ is our Advocate in heaven’s courtroom, he is the prosecutor who continually accuses us. He is not to be feared – but we are to mindful of his influence.

No, the first sin was not rebellion against God. Bad as it was, rebellion was merely the inevitable consequence of the first sin, which was pride. To paraphrase Augustine, it was pride that turned a glorious luminous entity into a devil; being now devilish, he works make mankind sin. He has no real freedom to do otherwise. It was his pride that drove him to be like God, so now he is driven to remake mankind into his own image.

What is sin? It, too, comes from a Hebrew word, one which meant “to miss the mark.” It is a term that comes from archery. Picture yourself armed with a bow and arrow. Ahead of you is a target painted with a bull’s-eye. You draw back, release, and watch your shot fall short of the mark. You missed – or, as an ancient Jewish bowman would have said, you sinned.

The analogy is apt. Your best efforts are like your best shot, and you can never, ever hit the mark unaided. The target in this case is God’s standard – his holiness, his righteousness, his purity of character and his perfection of all virtues. And the center of this bull’s-eye is humility.

There is such a thing as false humility. Self-righteous people are full of it. They pray in order to be seen praying; they subject themselves (and, if possible, others) to asceticism, idolatrous practices, and religious rules which are of no benefit to themselves or the Kingdom of God. We are warned to avoid becoming like them (see, for example, Colossians 2.18-23).

But there is true humility, and we should diligently seek to humble ourselves. Humility is the chief of all virtues, without which no other virtue can be won.

Humble yourself. It may be difficult at times, but do it anyway. It will be especially difficult if you are a proud, arrogant SOB, but take heart – even recognizing this about yourself is a step in the right direction. And persevere in lowering yourself! The devil will try to derail your efforts. The fictional demon Screwtape (from the eponymous Letters by C.S. Lewis) says hell, seeing us humble ourselves, tries to make us proud of our humility. The best weapon at that point, Lewis writes, is to have a good laugh at your own expense.

Last year I read an article written by a recruiter with Google in which he described that corporate giant’s hiring policy. Among all the education and skills he looks for in a new employee, he also wants to know if they are humble. Years of experience have made him decide to never hire someone who lacks humility.

This is old – and wise – policy. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, had a means by which he would vet future officers. When people would approach him about taking a leadership position within the Army, he told them to polish boots in a dark cellar. Those who quit in disgust, offended at being given such a menial task, weren’t leadership material; those who stuck it out were.

Unless you are humble, you cannot lead – at least, not according to Scripture. Biblical Christianity has no place for any but a servant-leader, one who will not “lord it over” those he leads but be willing to literally or metaphorically wash their feet.

Unless you are humble, you cannot learn, for learning presupposes willingness to admit shortcomings. It takes humility to recognize you don’t know what you need to know, and to receive instruction. Apart from it, you cannot possibly know how badly you need God, thus will not cry out to him for help.

Without humility, you cannot achieve true, lasting riches, honor and life. You will fail to understand that to be purchased by Christ means you no longer belong to yourself; to be Christ’s is to be bondslave as well as brother. Once his, you no longer have the right to do as you choose. Humility and humility alone enables you to submit to his authority and follow his lead.

Unless you are humble, you cannot be like Jesus. He was willing to be born to an impoverished family situation, living a life “of no reputation,” and dying a criminal’s death – and it was for this reason that God exalted him. Therefore, the Apostle says,

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

True humility does not pretend differences do not exist. You may indeed be smarter, stronger, healthier, wealthier, more attractive, more popular and more talented than the next person. These things are not irrelevant, but neither does having or lacking them make you intrinsically superior or inferior to others. You and they are equally loved and equally valued by our Creator. To believe otherwise is to head down the same road as the Satan did.

“Humility is the child’s acceptance of his true place in the grand scheme of things,” writes Beale, “and it is little wonder that so many minds cling to their foolish pride and flee from that awful reality.” Do not flee it. Embrace it. You are nothing without God. He relishes your love and welcomes your contributions, but needs neither. You have a unique part to play in this world, but should you fail in that part God will ensure the damage you do will be undone and the good you failed to do will be supplied by another. The universe will hum along just fine without you.

You are not needed. But you are wanted. God esteems those who are humble and gives them grace. He has promised to elevate them in due time, something which may occur in this life, or the next, or both. As Christ taught,

“Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Believe it, and live it.

image credit: “Humility” by Edward Burne-Jones, WikiMedia Commons

Advertisements