Tag Archive: pride


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.

Better Off Broken

image
In one of the most puzzling encounters in the Bible, the patriarch Jacob wrestles with a mysterious man all night. Near the end of the struggle, the stranger touches his hip and puts it out of joint.

He has been wrestling with God. And after God hurts and calls and blesses him, He changes Jacob’s name to Israel. And Israel now walks with a limp.

We often think that getting more religious means we will turn over a new leaf, and that we can, by sheer will power, change our hearts. We’re told that We Have The Power, that we just need to drum up enough faith, enough of the greatness within. And that we can do it all by ourselves.

But it’s just window dressing. All that does is turn us into proud, self-righteous fools. We can modify externals, but what of the very core of who we are? Lasting, inside-out change only comes from God’s direct work on us, and that often comes only as our trials break our hearts and humble us. It’s then, when we give our train-wrecked lives to Him in trust and surrender that we are remade in practical fact.

These trials may leave scars and even permanent damage. But they also become the marks of His ownership of our hearts. We now need to lean on Him to make our way – we always did, but now we know it. We will walk with a limp, just like Jacob. But it’s hardly a bad thing when we finally lay down our own attempts to justify ourselves and our proud self-sufficiency.

This is what humility looks like. Not that we hate ourselves, but that we’ve learned to look for our supply from Someone outside ourselves.

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?

Afraid to Forgive

Maybe the reason we have trouble forgiving critical people is because we’re afraid they’re right. By holding the hurt against them we feel we’re pushing back, that we are affirming ourselves against the pain they cause us. We shout back, “No! You’re wrong!” We fume and fret and want to put them in their place. Who are they to talk like that to us, anyways?

But at the root of it is our own insecurity – which is just inverted pride because It’s Still All About Us. As long as we are in that state we can’t help but worry about what others think.

We’re whistling in the dark. What if they’re right? We make an idol out of our desire to be respected.

Against this stands the Christian understanding of our true nature. We are told we are bent, that we were created good but separated ourselves from the only real source of life through our own pride and self-will. We understand right and wrong, but we still make poor choices, and this tendency is so ingrained and our rebellion so heinous that only the sacrifice of God incarnate could make a way back for us.

But the Bible also tells us we were that valuable, so intensely desired by God that He would do such a thing for us. We were built for an eternity with Him.

And that is where our true identity resides: redeemed sons and daughters of the One who made it all. Instead of shouting back at a world that sometimes seems indifferent to us, we can rest in God’s valuation. He thought we were important enough to die for, and if I fill my head and my heart with that, it’s easier to forgive.