Tag Archive: Humility

The Opposite of Religion

“For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭149:4‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

What is humility? It’s not, the saying goes, so much as thinking less of yourself but of thinking of yourself less. The humble look outside themselves, past their own abilities and agendas in concern for others and to seek grace to live lives that please God.

Religion seeks God on its own terms; I put God in my debt by my good works. Then I get bragging rights and can feel superior to others. But Christianity says there’s nothing I can bring to the negotiating table: I am accepted only by God’s raw grace.

The defining mark of God’s people is a conscious dependence on their Saviour. It’s not so much a prerequisite as it is a structural necessity: we have to be humble to look for help beyond ourselves.


Poor In Spirit

Jesus said “blessed are the poor in spirit”. A few thoughts and an extension of the analogy:

Poor in spirit = conscious dependence on God, His grace and provision.

Middle class in spirit = religious legalists who think they can do it themselves but still acknowledge transcendent moral values. These people are proud of their religiousity, and look down on those who don’t do as well. The Pharisees fall into this category.

Rich in spirit = don’t need God or effort – the experiencing self is the total and conscious centre of all. They make their own rules.

What Christmas Means

How God can allow pain in the world? What answer can He possibly give us? From ISIS to the gas chambers of Auschwitz it often seems He is silent.

And like us, Jesus as Man even asked the same: “Why have You forsaken me?”

But the answer was given over 2,000 years ago. At Christmas, we celebrate the fact that God became man, an act of staggering humility. But why was this necessary?

If we understand God is real, and that He desires relationship rather than just religious rule keeping, we must be free to choose or reject Him.

And in the only world where free will can exist, so will the potential for this chaos, pain and the evil we choose to do to one another. An act of divine power to just fix things would violate this freedom; so He had to come as a helpless baby to grow, dwell in our broken world and actually share in our pain. He identifies with us because He became human.

His answer was to suffer with us, and then to offer Himself as the atonement for our sin. And if He identifies with us, when we choose to enter relationship, we identify with Him: and what happens to Him becomes our fate as well.

His work was that, having died to sin, to rise again, through death to the resurrection: the defeat of the random, decaying order we see, an eternal hope for all will put their trust in Him.

If, in our identification with Him we died, we hope also to rise. This is the central belief and hope of the Christian faith: death and sin are defeated in fact.

He came to do so much more than teach.

If Justice is real and people have intrinsic worth, and if truth is a real thing that goes beyond personal opinion, the sensible thing to do is to seek it. And if there is a real truth, it must stand above other claims.

Where shall we look? Many people think science can tell us all the truth we need to know, but is that really so? Science (as useful as it is) only deals with “how” questions, and facts like the boiling point of water. As to questions of right, wrong and value it is silent.

History deals with evidence and historical records. This is more useful in our quest, but can’t prove things with mathematical certainty. We have to take certain things on the authority of evidence presented to us, but we can investigate the reliability of these sources to at least make informed decisions.

Philosophy and logic bring us closer still. We can examine the various truth claims for contradictions and outcomes.

Religion gives us codes and creeds, “to do” lists and techniques to achieve a higher place. They generally agree that moral truth is not man-made, but a fact that stands above humanity, and to which we will have to answer to. Of particular interest is how they deal with the fact that even though we know what right and wrong are, we sometimes make choices we know are wrong.

Hinduism gives us Karma and reincarnation (you keep coming back until you get it right), Buddhism teaches detachment from this world, Islam a fatalistic, earn-your-way-to-paradise structure. If it is Allah’s will, you’ll be fine. Otherwise…

Even Christianity is understood by many as just another way to earn your ticket, like St. Peter is going to put your deeds on a big scale and decide whether he’ll let you in the pearly gates (I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to be the poor person who only got 49.9 percent on that test!).

But the truth at the centre of the Christian Gospel is structurally different: that of a Man dying for His enemies. It is the historical record of love for the unlovely, and the defeat of death. It is the truth of humility, of the recognition of our value, the depth of our rebellion, and the wonder of our redemption – not earned, but freely given to all who admit their need and simply accept it.

It is the story of Grace. Of forgiveness that is freely given out of a love that chooses to give.

There are many kinds of love. Friendship, affection, erotic love… but above them all stands what the Greeks called agape, gift love, the love that recognizes the inherent worth of the beloved and chooses to love even its enemies. It doesn’t look for what’s-in-it-for-me, but seeks the best for others before itself. It affirms the inherent worth of the individual. It is the love of choice: not reactive, but proactive, a love that takes the initiative.

This is why Jesus told us to love even our enemies; not because they deserve it, but because God made them too. He demonstrated it on the cross, while we were still rebelling against His righteous claims on our lives.

Religion as commonly understood is all about being good to get to heaven. The problem is that when we feel we’ve earned something, we also feel we can judge those who have made poorer choices.

But when we receive forgiveness as a gift, we’ve got nothing to brag about, and that’s the entire point. What got us into trouble in the first place was that we wanted to be first: pride places self above the Other, above God and His moral law. When our ancestors decided to disobey God, it was an act of pride, deciding that we knew better: and we do it ourselves, every time we act selfishly.

But the person who comes to Christ does it through humble trust in the Giver, not through the “I can do it!” attitude of pride. No amount of effort can heal our wilful hearts; when we finally recognize this and ask for God’s help, we dance Adam’s dance backwards.

Jesus was notoriously casual about who He hung out with. His retinue included a former prostitute, a tax collector, a handful of blue-collar fishermen and other plain folk. He mostly got mad at the religious types. The prostitutes and tax collectors had no illusions as to where they stood; the religious ones, on the other hand, were proud of their religiousity, and (ironically) were further from God for it.

Modern takes on religion want to leave the pride in place while appearing spiritual. We’re proud of our openness and our tolerance, but never get to the point where we will have to make a decision on the real, unavoidable truth of our own fallen natures and its consequences. But the God Who Is calls to us. What will we choose?

It occurs to me that if we went through life honestly wanting to help others before ourselves there’d be a lot less worry and pain in our lives. Concern about the impression we’re making accounts for a large part of what makes us unhappy.

I was talking to a Jehovah’s Witness (who maintain that Jesus is not divine, but a created person) a few months back when a realization hit me: if God is eternal, and God is love, who did God love before He created man and angels? If Jesus is created, there must have been a time when God was NOT love.

The Father delights not in the Father, but in the Son, and the Son in the Father. God is, one might say, humble, and humility is a key component of authentic love. When we are called to look away from ourselves to others, we are being invited into the same sort of dynamic.

And what a relief it is to stop fretting and fussing about ourselves, our inflated egos and precious self esteem! When we are really grounded in His love, we can stop all that and just look at Him, and from there to the needs of others. This is real freedom.

The trick is not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less. The person who goes around telling people how awful he or she is is just as self obsessed as someone who brags of their accomplishments: it’s still all about them.

Turn your affections outward, first to God, then to the world. The new life is impossible without this fundamental shift in our allegiances.