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Humility Wins?

March 15, 2018 — Leave a comment

Richard Foster once made three profound observations about humility. He stated:

‘…it soon becomes apparent that:

1. Study demands humility. Study simply cannot happen until we are willing to subject to the subject matter…we must come as a student, not teacher.
2. Not only is study directly dependent upon humility, but it is conducive to it.
3. Arrogance and humility are mutually exclusive’ (2008:82)

Here Foster is concerned with the polarised disconnect between arrogance and humility in the context of study, viewed as being one of four inward spiritual disciplines.

The process involves having a loving conscience, and being open to the possibility that other Christians may stumble. Over the years I have learnt the importance of humility. Primarily due to my own under-developed theological and socio-political understandings. (1. Cor.8:11). In the field of academia friends, including “brothers-in-Christ” can quickly become an enemy.

The reason why is pinpointed by Liberation theologian James Cone.

The reality is that ‘most theologies [and other academic disciplines] are in fact an, [advantaged class] bourgeois exercise in intellectual masturbation’ (1975:43, parenthesis mine)

The issue of pride in the academy is bluntly summed by Cone. By this damning metaphorical indictment, Cone issues forth a caveat, that I am in cautious agreement with. Only as far as this statement critiques pride and ‘disturbs the sinner in his or her sin’ (Karl Barth).

Paul illustrates this in 1 Cor.8-10 when he invites the Church to identify its idols because:

‘Idolatry exposes people to serious danger…the strenuous self-denial of the athlete…is a rebuke to half-hearted, flabby Christian service. The athlete denies themselves many lawful pleasures and the Christian must similarly avoid not only definite sin, but anything that hinders spiritual progress…however God is not simply a spectator of the affairs of life in this; he is concerned and active. He will always provide a way out…therefore our trust is in the faithfulness of God’ (Morris 1996:137, 141 & 142)

Zeal (whether it be labelled liberal, conservative, red-pill, blue-pill, extreme or otherwise) must not become arrogant, conceited, and over-empowering whereby it puffs up one person to dominate over another unjustly.

In other words, ‘do not become the dragon  you are fighting against’ (Nietzsche paraphrased by Phillip Yancey, 1997:232)[1].

Pride is, and can only ever be an enemy of grace –  pride is like a tool for the ‘nothing’ (Barth’s term for absolute evil) to corrupt God’s blessing and work. As a consequence pride becomes an enemy to freedom, and a threat to community, worship, marriage, family – progress.

For me this means that my response to pride must become ‘reflective instead of instinctive’ (Karl Barth C.D IV.4:182); putting off well-engrained, survival mechanisms that help me hide in bitter pride rather than heal in humility.

It may be too simple to suggest that humility wins. After all, rejecting pride is not an easy task and mantra’s themselves can become tired, meaningless ambiguity of phrases like ‘love wins’. Suggesting that humility wins, however, is not the same as saying ‘love wins’ because it is more specific. Humility doesn’t have the baggage attached to it in the way that love does.

Nor does it not mean allowing ourselves to become doormats or subjugating ourselves to indentured, unjust servitude. Humility drives us forward. Unifying us in our agreements and disagreements; forcing us to graciously acknowledge our own limitations. This promotes respectful dialogue and round-table discussion.

One area where this can be applied is identified in Paul’s call to work towards preventing the wounding of other Christians in areas of their lives where they are either exhausted or under-developed (1 Cor. 8:11). To this task the Church in its various expressions and forms, ‘works towards the glory of God’ (1 Cor. 10:31) rather than the glory of self.

The side point here is that when Paul talks about restraining from or eating forbidden food, he doesn’t then apply, this freedom under grace, to sexual immorality. The body, as John Calvin so brilliantly points out, ‘was made for food, not for sexual immorality’ (Commentary on First Corinthians).

By choosing to give room for the under-developed thought and limitations of others we practice humility. Humility in action involves the loving ‘act of consideration for limitations ’ (Morris, 1996:124-123, italics mine). The superiority of humility over pride is grounded in the fact that humility strengthens, pride tears down. In working towards humility those brighter than the rest, offer to build those under up, providing them with the light of even greater insight and participation in the community.


References:

Cone, J.1975, God of the oppressed  Orbis Books NY

Forster, R. 2008 Celebration of discipline (1980) Hodder & Stoughton UK

Morris, L. 1996 Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 1 Corinthians Intervarsity Press Wm. B Eerdmans publishing

Yancey, P. 1997, What’s so amazing about Grace? Zondervan Publishing House

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash


[1] The actual quote reads ‘the man who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you’ (Beyond good and evil, p.63) – This is not an endorsement of Nietzsche or his philosophy, it is a critical application of a controversial statement used in order to illustrate a point.