The Key to Humility

August 14, 2010

In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster identifies the chief ingredient to becoming humble as serving others. While this advice may have been of some practical use for others, I do not think serving others addresses the root of the problem. It is common to see Christians who serve to take pride in their service and all their visible contributions. If on the contrary a Christian serves in a capacity unnoticed by others, we take pride in being the right hand that doesn’t let the left hand know what it’s doing. No matter which road we take in our acts of service, pride (that which is the very opposite of humility) has a way of creeping in through the back door. This is because service is a sort of outward conformity and not an inward change. I point this out not to discourage people who are struggling with pride from serving others in any capacity. That would result in very nearly all of us (if we’re honest enough) from serving others.

The real solution to becoming humble is to be loved unconditionally. Milton paints a picture of hell in which its inhabitants would choose to be the king in their own realm rather than a servant in God’s heaven. And this pure narcissism may indeed play a role in inflating pride. But at its germinating stages, pride is just a fear, the fear that you will be unloved and forgotten. That is why a prideful person always thinks of himself – he is afraid that he will not be remembered and then cease to exist. The only solution that can untie these knots of self-obsession and self-love is unconditional love of another. And the one truly unconditional love is divine; for even the deepest and the most faithful earthly loves meet their temporal ends in the grave. But this divine unconditional love tells us that we will never be unloved, never be forgotten by the Faithful Lover.

But how do we know? How can we have certainty that this infinite God, the creator of all things, would love us little finite beings? How can we dare to claim that this God would love us unconditionally? We know this only through Christ. Because God so loved the world He would give us His only Son.

We cannot come to know this unconditional love by merely experiencing human loves. They are different in their very quality and flavor. All other earthly loves pale in comparison. They are but shadows – foreshadows – that point to this great Charity that can free us from our self-obsessions and love God with all our beings. All other religions cannot understand God as love, as this self-sacrificing shepherd who gives his life for his sheep.

In Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller talks about his personal experience of living in the woods amongst a group of hippies for a month. He recounts how he was accepted for who he was and how he felt a genuine sense of community and love, and how this made him self-forgetful. This is humility; it is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that although he was accepted for who he was, he gradually become one of them. He talked, dressed, and did not shave, just like them. This transformative process is true of all love relationships, even the ‘I-It’ but especially the ‘I-Thou’ relationships. Lovers become like their beloved, and since higher degrees of loves are mutual (or else it is mere idol worship), both parties becomes like each other.

When God loves us, and in response we love Him, we become imitators of Him; we become like Him, but He who never changes cannot undergo the same process. Instead He humbled Himself and actually became a man! This is how we know that He loves us, through His Son! If we are then transformed into God’s children, then we are to imitate the character of Christ. We are to imitate His humility in taking on humanity.

So in this sanctification process of emptying our self-filled hearts and minds, we need Christ. This is quite different from saying “We need Christ’s help.” No. We need more than His example to follow. We need Christ himself. We need to realize once again this unmerited grace, this unconditional love we have through Him. Only in basking in the love of this humble King will we feel secure enough to let go of our fearful grip on our selves and our identities.

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