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A prideful humility.


Note: So much time has passed since I last wrote an entry here, I’m unsure if anyone visits anymore.  As far as a reason for the sabbatical, I really don’t have one,  other than my complete and total inability to settle down and write while the sun is shining.  And Seattle, for those that live in more blessed climates, was graced with an unusually bright spring and summer.  Thus, no writing.

A Prideful Humility.

Yes, I know, it’s one of those overwrought Christian titles that attempts to use a cute paradox to catch our eye.  They usually drive me mad, but in this case, it really works.  The problem begins with our definition of humility.  We imagine a humble spirit as some blithering and docile cream puff, wandering around muttering self deprecating apologies.  The type who follows every compliment they receive with an admission of some unrelated failing, eagerly assuring us of their unending inadequacies.

I’m not surprised that we’ve screwed up humility.  If pride is our biggest sin, it certainly should follow that humility will not go smoothly.  But I am utterly amazed at our ability to try and sell such a description of humility.  Consider William Bennet’s Book of Virtues.  I’ve heard several pastors wonder aloud at how humility escaped his encyclopedic catalog of desirable character traits.  I don’t wonder in the least.  Christian humility, as it is commonly presented, is ridiculous.

I’ve heard two great definitions of Christian humility.  The first is from C.S. Lewis and describes a humble person as not one with a low regard of themselves, but one with little regard at all.  Someone who almost forgets to consider themselves amid their concerns for glorifying God and loving his people.  The other definition, I don’t know where it originates, presents humility as the act of rightly understanding one’s standing.

When I first heard these definitions, I imagined them insightful, but completely incongruent.  This misunderstanding though, probably had more to do with my feeble grasp of my own humility than any real theological friction.  But through His grace, I began to see a beautiful consistency between the two.

Our problem with standard fare Christian humility is that it leaves us no less self absorbed.  Even when we deflect compliments through self deprecation, a sin nearly always lies beneath.  Perhaps we’re afraid of the standard we’ll set if people think we’re gifted.  Maybe we’ll feel convicted of other less redeemed aspects of our life.  The reasons are endless.

But humility does not go awry in simply what we say.  Often our botched attempts at humility are most pronounced in our silence.  I was struck recently by how reluctant we are to share stories that may paint us in a positive light, stories that may illuminate our superiority in a certain area of our life. This is odd, we seem to have no difficulty highlighting our great depravity or stubborn refusal to stop sinning.

Are we simply humble and nothing more?  Is this a blessed indication of the final death of pride in our lives?  Ummmm, no.

The answer lies in an equal saturation of both definitions of humility.  If we first have an accurate view of ourselves, this ought leave us utterly miserable and defeated.  But we cannot stop there, as so many do.  No, we must then, through the work of the gospel, begin the great exchange of our sin for Jesus’s grace.  And through this exchange we emerge into a new role.  No longer mired in mindless self deprecations, we are freed to act instead as mirrors, forgetting ourselves in our desire to reflect glory back to God.  This reflection need not wallow in tepid mediocrity, but instead boast boldly of the amazing work the Lord has done through us.  And within this role, the concept of arrogance falls away as irrelevant and absurd.


Comment from Katie
Time November 19, 2009 at 11:26 am

These are insightful thoughts. It makes me ponder what true humility would look like paired with great achievement. It is certainly part of our American culture to strive for excellence and success. Maybe our desire for titles is a passive way of telling others about our talents. As if we say it without seeming like we are. But I think you’re right on about the Gospel and it’s power to transform our lives to do more with what we have been given. Not because we are great, but because Jesus is and by His grace, we are made for greatness to glorify Him. True humility might steer us to strive for excellence in things that are blessings to others perhaps? I’ve got to think about this more. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Comment from Nate
Time November 19, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Mallory, glad to see you are back to writing. We’ll probably have to wait till the snow clears to get another post, but I guess I can linger in the rain.

Comment from Bob
Time December 3, 2009 at 9:08 pm

We could promote our own humility, as when Moses describes himself as “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” in Numbers 12. Just kidding — maybe his overenthusiastic scribe added that, or Moses was just stating the bare facts.

Good point about not wallowing in our self-recognition, and I suppose it’s possible to realize it’s not all about ME. Several Bible heroes come to mind as those who hit the bottom with devastating awareness of their failings, yet rebounded to the highest service for the king.

Moses haggled with God about not being eloquent in Exodus 4, yet he got to part the Red Sea, split the rock at Horeb, and carry the stone tablets down from Mt. Sinai. Peter rebounded from his cowardly denial to persevere amid horrible persecutions of the early church. Paul begged “who can deliver me from this body of death?”, yet almost single-handedly spread the church outside of Judea.

The common theme seems that they all came to that point where they realized they weren’t fooling anyone, showed genuine remorse for their sorry state, and saw that God was their only hope. I think God allows such times in our lives as a blessing, so that we see ourselves without Photoshop touchups. Then He can use us as valuable tools in His work without all the distracting hubris.

An accurate view of ourselves. Begin the great exchange of our sin for Jesus’ grace. Well stated. A real humility.

Comment from Wyatt Houtz
Time December 20, 2009 at 8:44 pm

Have you read Jonathan Edward’s the Nature of True Virtue? It’s a difficult read, but he does some interested stuff against John Locke. -wyatt

Comment from Wyatt Houtz
Time December 20, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Cool website, I wish I could have been at the table talk today. -wyatt

Comment from jrmallory
Time December 21, 2009 at 10:36 am

I haven’t read it, I will give it a shot!

Comment from jrmallory
Time December 21, 2009 at 10:58 am

Great comments Dad (Bob), I like the imagery of us standing before God, unable to fool ourselves or anyone else anymore.

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