Archives For Pride

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.

Commenting on contentious issues comes with a level of risk. These risks include misinterpretation, malicious dismissal, personal attacks and harassment. Therefore, I proceed here with the utmost caution.

Over the course of the next month Australians of voting age will be having their say in a postal-vote on same-sex marriage. From this plebiscite the Government will, presumably, discern the will of the people and act accordingly.

As a Christian theologian, I acknowledge that I may be accused of having a bias. I respond to this with humility, saying I have given this matter a great deal of consideration. As such I have endeavoured to speak truth in love.

I have also refrained from delving into biblical exegesis which backs our scientific understanding of human biology, procreation and the dangers of irregular sexuality. I have chosen to leave this out, not because of a lack of knowledge on my part, but because these subjects have been addressed at length by people, who are far more eloquent than me, and have more time and resources to devote to the subject at hand.

However, since Australia is still a country that values civic principles such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion, in writing this, I am choosing to exercise my right as a free citizen, who is not a subject of a party, a church denomination or secret society.  It is in the spirit of these civic principles that I present the following:

I will be voting “no” to SSM because genuine marriage equality is no better displayed than in traditional marriage. This is a union that is equally shared between a man and a woman. This is where male and female, who are not brother and sister, come together to create a home. This is true equality. As such, it makes marriage the property of those who inherited the truth that man, is free to be for woman, and woman, is free to be for man.

From this union comes a new generation, who is at the mercy of this equality and by being conceived into it, becomes an heir to true equality. To eventually take on the responsibility for preserving it.

From this comes the nurture of children. This involves the man and the woman, as father and mother, who are given, not just an inheritance from those men and women who nurtured them, but the responsibility to preserve the tried and true, against its usurpation. In some cases, to even move beyond abuse and neglect, where true equality has become compromised, or irregular; to rise up, and be what they were not shown.

Man and woman invite each other into this equal union. It is an act of reconciliation between the man and woman. Misogyny and misandry are alien to it, and only pose a threat to the unity, balance and true equality that such a union encourages.

There can be no compromise with misogyny or misandry. No allowance for a whole generation to only know one parent and be withheld unjustly from the other. We see on a daily basis, the results of fatherless homes. Some of us have even experienced the brokenness of an orphan heart and wrestle daily with wounds caused by the absence of a mother or a father.

Love is not defined by the state, which is governed by whimsical fads, customer satisfaction ratings and is often bloated and self-serving.

I will be voting “no” to SSM because I also believe in the Biblical witness which proclaims this true equality. It points to centuries of witnesses who followed its faithful path.

Their witness is an inherited and loving “no” against those who would replace Father and Mother with ”parent one and parent two”. It is an inherited and loving “no” against those who would chain innocence to irregularity, by confusing a child about their own identity, imposing adult presuppositions, fads or twisted social experimentation on them.

God is love. Love is not God. If love was god, it would be a false god; a god made in human image. It would not be God. Therefore love is love, is a lie. If love is love, then there is no argument against racists who love their race more than others and proudly show it. The answer then is that love cannot, does not and must not be construed as, being able to define itself.

As the anti-Nazi theologian Karl Barth stated in 1938:

‘God is not what we know as love in ourselves…We are taught by John’s Gospel [et.al] and [his] 1st letter, not about the deity of love, but the love of the Deity’
(C.D 1:2 1938:374)

I will be voting “no” to SSM because love is love, is a lie.

An environmentalist seeks the preservation of nature and what is good in nature. They rightly stand against the imposition of human structures, specifically, the violence done to nature by grotesque pollution, and human pride and greed, which arrogantly justifies the unnecessary destruction of nature.

It stands to reason then, that any environmentalist who argues for SSM based on the argument that love is love, and all that is behind love is love, necessarily allows the person who loves his or her money, more than the environment, to destroy the environment. Empowering them to act in violence against the environment.

Making, by default, the environmentalist in their “no” to the greed and pride of the lover of money, and their ”yes” to SSM, a hypocrite of the highest order. Not only are they not protecting the natural union between man and woman, woman and man, for the generations to come, they are negating their stand against the abuse of the environment. Therefore any environmentalist, who supports SSM, makes environmentalism obsolete.

I will be voting “no” to SSM because there is no creative power in darkness.

The moon is dressed up and reflects the light of the sun. It is imitation light. It is not light itself. It does not produce life, nor does it have the power to nurture it, without corrupting it. It is a morbid light. Light imitating light.

The moon can never be or fulfil the role of the sun. No matter how much man and woman, in worship of that morbid light, may wish to twist this fact. Light which imitates light, is a false dawn; at its end there is only darkness; the flames of annihilation, self-annihilation and the malady of nothingness. Light that does not become light, cannot produce life.

“the moon gives off light, but not life. It is a cold, morbid light. It is light without heat ; a secondary light, only a dim reflection from a dead world.”
(Orthodoxy, p.18 paraphrased)

I will be voting “no” to SSM because as a son broken by the absence of his father, I cannot in good conscience consign others to the same depth of pain and loss, felt by the absence of a mother or a father.

Coming from a background where my father was not around, not just because of his own failures, but those of others, I cannot, in good conscience, consign others to experience that pain, and loss.

I cannot in good conscience consign a child to confusion over their gender, which is determined biologically. I cannot in good conscience consign a child to a numerical system such as parent 1 and parent 2, where they may never know the love of a father and a mother.

I cannot in good conscience consign a man to abandon his children, for want of being a woman, or a woman abandon her children for want of being a man. Then demanding those children accept the loss of that parent and accept the heartache and longing it causes with the self-justification that the adult’s want overruled the needs of the child.

I cannot in good conscience surrender love to abuse and the perversion of science to aesthetically turn the moon into a sun, and the sun into a moon, and then demand it be widely accepted as scientific fact.

I see a loving “no” as being part of our corporate responsibility towards future generations, and our collective responsibility to preserve, for those generations, the good, like that of civic principles which uphold true freedom and true equality, that have been handed to us, often at great cost.

It is with these considerations in mind that I say “no” to same-sex marriage.


References:

Barth, K. 1938, Church Dogmatics 1/2 Hendrickson Publishers

Chesterton, G.K, 1901 Orthodoxy Relevant Books

Related reading: 

When a Man Loves a Woman: Barth’s Freedom in Fellowship

Bonhoeffer’s Discourse On Pride, Identity, Lust & Christian Discipleship

#loveislove?

Trending Exploitations

March 2, 2016 — 2 Comments

20151024_111239 bricks

There’s inelegance to this new ignorance,

                             The pompous promotion

                             of itself as intelligence;

         “Fall into line with self-interest”

                              Pride paraded as humanitarian deliverance.

The ones who dare to disagree,

           speak from worn, but true hearts

The ones that don’t,

            “Sigh”, make noises, raise fists and tweet        d[f]arts.

From pampered platforms these boasters repress.

Roasting their enemies over the dark,

                                     widening pit of “progress

Science manipulated, is fact concocted;

             the false substantiality

                                  of a contortion of reality.

Allegiances, that political commodity,

               is

brought and sold for approval and vain popularity.

Like sex, it sells and makes

                 “all experts [have-to] agree.”

Such is the trending exploitation

                                    of tolerance by a minority,

When finding outrage is all the rage,

                                                   Pride legislated spite

                                                   hijacks true civil rights .

                  Feelings over thought;

                  Appearances vs. deeds

Society remolded by neo-Stalinist greed.

         “Convert, pay lip service or pay the ultimate price.”

These new cultural laws;

                 create justified outlaws.

Responsible freedom and fair speech,

          locked up behind gates,

are sent to camps

                 both labelled bigoted and hate.

Yet, these bold political prisoners of war

continue to solemnly state,

                    nowhere in, tolerate,

                    is there the command, to celebrate.


(RL2016)

A loving neinHidden away, near to the middle of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘The Cost of Discipleship[i],’ rests a three page essay on marriage called ‘Woman.’

Why Bonhoeffer named this chapter so specifically is a mystery.  My best guess here is that he was looking to the growing ease by which society has sold and objectified sex.

The chapter is an analysis of Jesus’ views on marriage, divorce and sexual immortality; or as Bonhoeffer states, ‘sexual irregularities’ (p.85). The texts referred to are Matthew 5.27-32, 1 Cor. 6:13-15 & Gal 5:24, and forms part of his larger discussion on ‘The Sermon on The Mount.’

What he means by ‘sexual irregularities’ is clarified by his reference to the Greek word πορνεια. Translated this reads as porneia, meaning, “unchastity”, unlawful sexual acts. It is linked to a metaphor for idolatry, but means sexual immorality, such as incest […et.al]. (An important side note: porneia is also linked, but does not mean adultery. This is because adultery is a separate word – μοιχεια; moicheia.)’[ii]

Although separate from the state, Christianity is in part political. The Church is never apolitical. It is this primarily because of its acknowledgement and proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. At its beginning everything is brought under the mercy and judgement in Christ’s Lordship. Theology is its starting point in a reliable critique of all ideology; whether left or right, up or down, what God has communicated through His Word stands to confront and lovingly correct human ignorance and arrogance.

As a result, the church has never been politically fashionable. When it becomes so, it is likely to no longer be a Christian Church, having surrendered to a politics of displacement, where people are ruled by human lords as if they were Lordless. It is a Church no longer speaking out from a position of the acknowledgement and proclamation of Jesus Christ as its Lord.

Underpinning the importance of Bonhoeffer’s discourse is the issue of identity. Our identity in Christ overrules and overcomes any identifying with the fallen nature. No one can be other than a Christian, if that Christian claims to follow Christ. Prefixes like ‘gay Christian, on-fire Christian, etc’ are distractions, they don’t pin well to those who bear the crucifix. Such is the cost of discipleship.

It is in the valley of God’s gracious decisiveness that a Christian’s identity is forged. Our identity is in Christ, transformed by the hand that chooses to reach for humanity, at cost. Like Karl Barth, Bonhoeffer calls those who would hear the good news to align their lives with the God who in Jesus Christ made a way for us to align with Him. This authentic allegiance is costly, still it is the imperative and indicative; it is what and who a Christian is called to, if they are to be a Christian in word, deed and attitude.

According to Bonhoeffer:

this ‘adherence to Jesus allows no free rein to desire unless it be accompanied by love. To follow Jesus means self-renunciation and absolute adherence to him, and therefore a will dominated by lust can never be allowed to do what it likes.’ (p.83)

Bonhoeffer is drawing from an, ‘all or nothing’ idealism, but he does so under the light by which God’s grace frames our finite and future existence. On the surface the influence of Kant’s ethical absolutism might be seen to be clouding Bonhoeffer’s conclusions. However, a closer look at the text shows that, although present, Kant’s ethical absolutism barely colours what Bonhoeffer is truly getting at.

Bonhoeffer moves beyond the existential towards God’s purpose for marriage.

Stating, ‘the disciple’s exclusive adherence to Christ extends even to married life. Christian marriage is marked by discipline and self-denial. Christ is the Lord even of marriage. There is of course a difference between the Christian and the bourgeois conception of marriage, but Christianity does not therefore depreciate marriage, it sanctifies it […] purity or chastity is safeguarded amongst those who follow Jesus and share his life.’ (pp. 84)

Bonhoeffer conceded that although Jesus’ commands regarding sexual sin are clear, His voice on marriage is not. They are, however, clearer than at first they might appear.

‘Instead of ‘abolishing marriage, Jesus sets it on a firmer base. Choosing to sanctify it through faith’ (p.84). ‘Jesus also approves of absolute celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. But he lays down no definite programme for his disciples, whether of celibacy or of marriage, only he delivers them from the perils of sexual irregularity inside or outside of the married life.’ (p. 85)

The point being that Jesus chooses ‘to liberate marriage from selfish, evil desire, and to consecrate it to the service of love, which is possible only in a life of discipleship.’ (p.84)

Highlighted here are the words: Christ is the Lord even of marriage…[the health and beauty of] purity or chastity is safeguarded amongst those who follow Jesus and share his life.

In the Pre-Constantinian era, the early Church tells us that pride is the enemy of grace. When it comes to Jesus Christ, any attempt to make our word His own, is an attempt to dethrone Him.  It misrepresents grace, does violence to the science of theology and hinders healthy democratic dialogue. Like recent examples on social media have shown. Particularly when the words, ‘Jesus said, “Don’t Judge,” were turned into a passive aggressive whip statement, used flippantly against Christians.

Pride and love are polar opposites. Where love is conscripted into the cause of pride, love is lost. Where pride becomes part of a person’s identity, there is no room for Christ. Where pride pushes for normalisation and blind acceptance of sexual irregularities, pride revels in disunity. Where pride wins and is then raised up to be the quintessential example of love, the beauty of true love, especially and uniquely shared between a man and a woman; a woman and a man, is overshadowed. Pride cannot be compatible with marriage because love is not compatible with pride.

The penultimate result of an allegiance to pride is that, man for woman and woman for man; both reconciled under God, are no longer seen to be uniquely reconciled to one another. It then follows that a normalisation of separation and estrangement will only encourage each to act against the other. Under the careful rule of human overlords, who search through any and all dissent for offense, the end result is a passively violent, gender segregation. One unleashed upon the world through unfettered misandry and misogyny, made law under the “feel-good” disguise of tolerance and equality. Enslaving men and women to a renewed, but subtle, hatred of each other. Forcing apart that which was long ago ordained and reconciled by God. Here the chains of an inhumane past, picked up and rattled by activists, ring loudly in our ears, ‘stick to your own kind, and never the two shall meet.’

The Church, if it is to be a Christian church, in its discipleship, must answer in two ways. First, with a firm, reasoned, loving ‘no.’ And second, with,

‘ Choose this day who you will serve […] as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
(Joshua 24:14-15, ESV)

 

Notes:

[i] Bonhoeffer, D. 1937 Discipleship/The Cost of Discipleship SCM Classics

[ii] Green, J.B & McKnight, S. 1992 Dictionary of Jesus & The Gospels, IVP

#dontfollowthecrowd

Instead, question it:
“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?”
– Luke, 6:39, ESV
But be careful:
‘He that does good works for praise or secular ends, sells an inestimable jewel for a trifle; and that which would purchase heaven for him, he parts with for the breath of the people; which, at best, is but air, and that not often wholesome’
– Jeremy Taylor, c.1650 Holy Living
Because:
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
– Luke, 14:11, ESV
Therefore:
‘Follow him who, by diligently ploughing his field, sought for eternal fruit: Being reviled we bless, being persecuted we endure, being defamed we entreat, we are made as the offscouring of the world. If you plough after this fashion you will sow spiritual seed. Plough that you may get rid of sin and gain fruit.’
– Ambrose Of Milan, 4th Cent. Concerning Repentance

Loving pride

Rembrandt_1633 Christ in the storm on the sea of GalileeAlthough I’ve browsed through ‘City of God’ and ‘On Christian Doctrine’, my main interaction with Augustine’s work centres on his ‘Confessions’.  (A phenomenal read if you ever get the chance to dig into it.)

I like many of the things Augustine says and wrestle with some of his more introspective reflections.

One of those is his statement:

‘The appearance of what we do is often different from the intention with which we do it, and the circumstances at the time may not be clear’[i]

Augustine seems to be saying that what we intend is not always what we do. Circumstances pending, what we do is sometimes only for the sake of what we want others to see and therefore say about us.

Avarice overrides responsible action as pride corrupts intention. Thus leading us onto a path where we turn ‘the loss of confessing self in order to be for others, into an all consuming self, an expressivist exhibition’[ii]

The divide between appearances and intentions, then, forms the basis of his point. This existential division creates an ethical-theological tension perpetuated by the sometimes fog of circumstances.

This is identified by Jean Bethke Elshtain in ‘Augustine and the limits of politics’:

 ‘Augustine lays the miseries of human life at the doorstep of sin, our division (within selves and between self and others), our enthrallment to cupiditas[iii] and our all-too-frequent abandonment of caritas[iv]. We are, in other words, ignorant but it is ignorance of a particular kind, not innocent naiveté but prideful cognitive amputation.[v]

What Elshtain means by ‘prideful cognitive amputation’ is ‘philosophical solipsism’ (extreme subjective idealism)[vi]; thoughtlessness (not to be confused with mindlessness), but understood as ‘the banality of evil.(Hannah Arendt’s controversial assessment of Adolf Eichmann) [vii]

Elshtain, a feminist, presents her analysis of Augustine as an attempt at rescue. Saving Augustine from the ritualistic frown passed on to our forebears by the hubris and suspicion of post 60’s modernity.

For her, Augustine is relevant and worthy of a second look:

‘He confesses what he knows and what he does not know. He does know that the world isn’t boundlessly subjectivist; it does not revolve around the “me, myself and I”[viii]

Augustine himself thunders the point home:

‘I flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it so that you might bring healing to a soul that had sinned against you. I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me. The truth, of course, was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner’[ix]

Elshtain brilliantly adds, ‘when we start to regard ourselves in our own light, our light dims’[x]

Reading this in the emerging light of advent we might be called back to Karl Barth’s assertion

‘To thank means to accept with confession,… to acknowledge the gift, the goodness and the kindness of the Giver’[xi]

God makes himself known in Jesus Christ, ‘the sign of all signs[xii]

In Augustine’s sigh we hear that the heart has ears. Before the beauty of Christmas this can only mean an awakening to an awareness of our own need for grace; an acknowledgement that we are carried, firmly, lovingly held above the abyss.

Confronted by such a grace we learn that God is God and we are not. Yet, by Divine decision; a fierce and free decree. In Jesus Christ, we are spoken to, spoken for and therefore not given up on.

In His example we see in part, the point of Christmas. That the ‘principle of charity requires nothing less than to make one’s best effort.’[xiii]

Jesus is Victor!


Source

[i] Augustine, St. Confessions Penguin Classics III/XIX 1961:67

[ii] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’ p.6

[iii] Latin for desire, eagerness, enthusiasm; passion; lust; avarice; greed; ambition; partisanship (Source: Collins Latin Dictionary App)

[iv] Latin for charity, grace, dearness, high price; esteem, affection (Source: Collins Latin Dictionary App)

[v] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’ p.37

[vi] Ibid, p.59

[vii] Ibid,

[viii] Ibid, p.5

[ix] Augustine, St. 1961 Confessions Penguin Classics V/X p.103

[x] Elshtain, ibid pp.11, 66 &62

[xi] Barth, K. 1940 The Limits of  the Knowledge of God C.D II/I Hendrickson Publishers p.198

[xii] Ibid, p.199

[xiii] Elshtain, ibid p.55

*I’ve borrowed the second part of the title to this blog post from Elshtain, who uses it on page xiii in her introduction.

Image: Rembrandt, 1633 ‘Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee’