Saturday, June 28, 2014

Real humility. . .

It's hard to be humble when you are so good.... right?  I fear that humility is perhaps a lost virtue.  To be sure, we have people trying to be humble but I wonder if the humility that they seek is but an illusion.  How easy it is when complimented to dismiss the compliment -- aw shucks, t'warn't nuthin at all.  That is not humility.  Humility does not diminish the self but does not think of self -- not first, not second, not at all.

Jesus is humble not because He dismisses who He is (the Son of God incarnate) nor what He has the power to do (compelling all things).  Our Lord is humble because His focus is not on self but upon those for whom He lived in holiness, died for sin, and rose to give eternal life.  As St. Paul reminds us, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross and scorned its shame...  Humility always tempts us to think that it means diminishing self when it really means not focusing upon self.

C. S. Lewis once said Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less...  This is the humility that is so difficult in an age of personal preference which dominates nearly everything in life.  We listen only to our music thanks to ear buds, smart phones, and I-pods.  We do only what we want, eat only what we eat, and like only what we like or we think we have betrayed ourselves.  We define all truth by our reason and desire and care little if it has any real staying power or whether it speaks to more than one.  Our morality is one person wide and one person deep.  ME is the most important word in our vocabulary and we make sure that our kids learn it at the youngest of ages.  We would not dare to make our children do what they do not want to do (including go to church).  We are suspicious of humility because it implies that there might be something wrong with our preoccupation with me, with our happiness, with our desire to find pleasure at all times and in all things.

We get angry too easily.  We become frustrated with others too quickly.  We dismiss out of hand what we do not like or want.  We are offended and take it personally when someone challenges what we think or believe.  We are consumed with ourselves and so real humility is foreign to us and alien to our way of life.  The great gift of God in Christ is the appeal to love the Lord first and to love neighbor as He has loved us and gave Himself for us -- but you will find little appeal in the Gospel to self, to the me through whom we have come to see all things of life.

Yes, Christians speak of sin, of original sin that taints the heart and life beyond our control and of the actual sins born of evil desires and wicked pleasures as well as wrongful thoughts, words, and deeds.  This is not said to put our ego in place (although it does) but in honesty only the Spirit can inspire.  The point of Christianity is not to feel bad about "me" but to see the "me" honestly and truthfully.  The sinner redeemed by grace is led by the Spirit to the true humility in which "me" seems lost in the face of the love of the cross that is our joy and treasure and the new life of loving God above all things and our neighbor as Christ has loved us.  Yet this is precisely the problem.

The reason churches like Lakewood Church and preachers like Joel Osteen are so popular is that they give us permission to think about me.  They allow the "me" to be center stage and still call it religion.  My wants and desires can still rule the day and I don't have to feel badly about it all.  This is great danger precisely because it masks the true Gospel and silences the accusing finger of the Law.  Humility is still spoken about but it becomes merely a pass off on the recognition we know we deserve instead of the manner of life under the cross, the walk of faith on the narrow way.  Self does not get out of the way in order for me to be saved but it leaves center stage as a fruit of Christ's saving work and Spirit in us. 

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